U.S. envoy urges Japan to continue Iraq, Afghan missions

TOKYO (Reuters) - Washington’s ambassador to Tokyo urged Japan on Tuesday to continue its support missions for U.S.-led forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

File photo of U.S. Ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer in Tokyo April 3, 2008. REUTERS/Michael Caronna

Ambassador Thomas Schieffer’s call followed a domestic media report that Japan would bring home its air force personnel, now airlifting supplies from Kuwait to Iraq, by the end of the year.

“We’re very appreciative of what Japan has done both in Iraq and Afghanistan... and we’re hopeful that they’ll be able to continue making contributions to the realisation of both a peaceful Iraq and a peaceful Afghanistan,” Schieffer told a group of reporters after meeting with Japanese Prime Minister YasuoFukuda.

Japan, whose U.S.-drafted pacifist constitution bans it from taking part in conflicts abroad, is cautious about dispatching troops overseas.

It sends some 200 air force personnel in Kuwait for to support logistics in Iraq and provides fuel for U.S. and other ships patrolling the Indian Ocean in support of the war in Afghanistan.

The Sankei Newspaper reported that Tokyo plans to end the Iraq mission by the end of the year when the U.N. mandate of foreign forces expires at the end of 2008, as it faces opposition to continue the mission from its coalition partner New Komeito party and the main opposition Democratic Party.

Meanwhile, legislation allowing the refuelling mission in the Indian Ocean expires in January and extending this mission is also likely to be opposed by opposition parties which control parliament’s upper house.

This legislation is expected to be a focus of an extra parliamentary session that is likely to be convened in either August or September.

Last November, Japan had to halt the refuelling mission for two months after a law allowing the operations ran out, and the ruling bloc had to use its two-third majority in the powerful lower house to override an upper house veto.

Earlier this month, domestic media reported that Japan dropped a plan to send ground troops to Afghanistan after the ruling coalition failed to reach a consensus due to fears over continuing violence in the area.