Japan says it will withdraw its air defense forces from Iraq by the end of the year.

Defense Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi announced the plan Thursday in Tokyo.

Japan's Air Self-Defense Force has been airlifting materials and troops between Kuwait and locations in Iraq since 2006.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe issued a statement praising Japan's contributions in Iraq.  He said Japan will continue to be a "significant partner in the war on terrorism."

Japan initially deployed ground forces to Iraq in 2003, in support of the U.S. led-invasion.  The troops conducted a humanitarian mission in the south, building schools and roads, and providing clean water.

It was the first overseas deployment of Japanese troops since World War II.

Many Japanese opposed the mission because they were against the war or believed it violated Japan's pacifist constitution.


Some information for this report was provided by AFP.