Japan plans to dispatch three warships as early as Friday to provide non-combat support to the American-led strikes on suspected terrorist sites in Afghanistan. The decision comes shortly after the enactment of new laws giving the Japanese military a wider, non-combat role in the war.
Japan's cabinet voted Thursday night to send the two destroyers and a supply vessel to aid the war effort. According to a spokesman for Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, they will head for the Indian Ocean from Nagasaki Prefecture, about 1000 kilometers southwest of Tokyo.
They are expected to gather intelligence and to chart a route for other Japanese ships which are expected to follow. About 700 crew members will be aboard the vessels.
The move comes after parliament approved legislation, last month, which allows Japanese troops to provide rear-guard support to the United States and its allies in the war on terrorism. The legislation is controversial in Japan because the nation's constitution - written after World War Two - bans the country from using force to resolve international disputes.
Tokyo is reported to have considered deploying a destroyer equipped with a high-tech Aegis radar system but decided such a move would impair its self-defense ability.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and other leaders want to demonstrate Japan is eager to do more than just send money to aid the war effort, as it did during the Gulf War in the early 1990's.
The Koizumi Administration hopes to finish a plan for Japan's role in the war. By law it will be allowed to provide transportation, medical assistance and logistical help to allied troops, but will not get involved in combat.