Japan's defense agency has ordered ships supporting U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan to return home from the Indian Ocean, after the country's main opposition party refused to back an extension of the law supporting the mission. But as Naomi Martig reports from VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong, the government has pledged to renew it.
The law authorizing the Japanese refueling mission expires at midnight Thursday in Japan. But Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba has already ordered Japan's two ships in the Indian Ocean, a destroyer and an oiler, to return to Japan, bringing to a close the country's main military role in the war on terror.
Since 2001, Japan has supplied fuel to ships that support U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan. The law authorizing the mission was passed after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Lawmakers have extended the mission repeatedly, but the latest attempt at an extension failed to pass.
The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, which won control of the upper house of parliament earlier this year, refused to back the extension. Opposition lawmakers argue that the mission lacks a mandate from the United Nations, and that it goes against the country's pacifist constitution, which forbids Japan from engaging in military operations overseas.
Speaking late Wednesday, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said it is unfortunate the Indian Ocean mission is ending.
"Our refueling activity has been appreciated by many countries," he said. "It's a pity we have to end our task."
Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said Thursday that the government will try to pass a new law resuming the mission. He says officials are making every effort to enact a new refueling bill as soon as possible.
Prime Minister Fukuda is expected to meet later this week with Ichiro Ozawa, the leader of the Democratic Party, to discuss a possible compromise.
Mr. Fukuda's Liberal Democratic Party controls the more powerful lower house of parliament, and could muscle through a new law allowing Japanese ships to return.
During its six-year mission, Japan has provided about 480,000 kiloliters of fuel to coalition warships in the Indian Ocean, including those from the United States, Britain and Pakistan.
U.S. officials and envoys from coalition countries had urged Japanese lawmakers to extend the mission. Earlier this week, a Pentagon spokesman said that if Japan ended the mission, Washington would come up with alternative ways of fueling the ships.
Japan's role in the war on terror has also included the deployment of 600 self-defense forces in a non-combat role in southern Iraq, a mission that ended earlier this year.