The United States and Japan have reached an agreement to move about 9,000 U.S. Marines on the Japanese island of Okinawa to locations outside of Japan. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, traveling in Santiago, Chile, Thursday, is applauding the deal that will see the Marines moved to other locations in the Asia-Pacific region.
The agreement comes after years of protests by Japanese residents of Okinawa who have complained of crime, noise, and occasional incidents of bad behavior by U.S troops based on the island.
The United States and Japan issued a joint statement announcing the deal, which comes after years of negotiations that have been stalled by political controversy in both countries. U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta called it an important agreement.
Pentagon spokesman George Little says the deal is in line with the administration's new defense strategy that calls for a shift in focus to the Asia Pacific region, along with the Middle East. “It signals our commitment to Japan," he explained. "It signals our commitment to Asia Pacific and it is a reflection of our emphasis on Asia Pacific.”
Little says the timeline for moving the Marines out of Okinawa is yet to be set. “At the end of the day we're looking at drawing down about 9,000 and repositioning from Okinawa and repositioning about 5,000 or so to Guam and this is perfectly consistent with what we've been talking about for some time with our Japanese allies,” he said.
In addition to Guam, troops are to be moved to Hawaii and other locations in the Pacific outside of Japan. About 10,000 Marines are to remain on the island.
A deal to close the island's Futenma airbase, which has been the target of protests by Japanese residents, has yet to be reached.
The United States maintains slightly under 50,000 troops in Japan under an agreement signed by both countries in 1960, 15 years after the United States defeated Japan in the Second World War.
Protests against the presence of U.S troops on Okinawa began after the 1995 rape of a Japanese schoolgirl by a number of U.S soldiers.