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Japan Navy Ships Sail for Afghan War

Japan dispatched three military vessels to the Indian Ocean Sunday to provide support to the U.S.-led anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan. Their departure marks the country's first wartime military deployment since World War II.

A minesweeper tender, a destroyer and an 8,000-ton supply ship set sail from Japan Sunday with a total crew of 460.

They will ferry fuel to U.S. military operations in the Indian Ocean and will carry relief supplies such as blankets and tents to Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

The ships left amid protests from anti-war demonstrators who are against Japanese involvement in the war on terrorism.

Japan's pacifist constitution bars the country from taking part in military conflicts, except in self-defense. But parliament passed a law last month allowing the country's troops to provide non-combat support only for the U-S led strikes on suspected terrorist targets in Afghanistan.

Japanese Defense Agency Director General Gen Nakatani addressed crew members before their departure. He said Japan should aim to be a nation that is respected by the rest of the world and one that can make active and responsible contributions.

He appeared to be referring to the Gulf War, when Japan provided funds but no troops to the allied war effort. Many Japanese were embarrassed after other countries objected. Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi and other conservative politicians have felt strongly about offering more than just money to help win the war on terrorism.

Sunday's deployment is the first to take place under the new legislation. Three ships sent to the Indian Ocean earlier this month were operating only for reconnaissance purposes and thus were not dispatched under the new law.

The dispatch of the three ships on Sunday was the first part of the plan to support the United States. Japan will send a total of three destroyers, two supply ships, six transport planes and two multi-purpose aircraft. A maximum of 2,600 personnel will be engaged in an area of operations including the Indian Ocean, Australian territorial waters and the Persian Gulf.