Sunday, November 09, 2008

Marine transfer on track: U.S., Japan commit at 'highest levels'

By Dionesis Tamondong • Pacific Daily News • November 10, 2008

The governments of Japan and the United States remain committed to the transformation of the U.S.-Japan alliance, which includes moving about 8,000 U.S. Marines and thousands of their dependents from Okinawa to Guam, according to the Defense Department.

"The two governments of the United States and Japan have recommitted at the very highest levels -- prime minister and president -- to the eventual success of the DPRI," said Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating, the senior U.S. commander in the Pacific, according to Defense Department.

Keating discussed military transformation initiatives, including the Defense Policy Review Initiative focused on the U.S.-Japan alliance, during sessions in New York at the Council on Foreign Relations Nov. 6 and the Foreign Press Center Nov. 5, according to the American Forces Press Service.

Despite budget challenges both countries face, Keating said both countries want the plan to move forward as quickly as possible.

A senior Defense Department official said Saturday that Washington still aims to complete the relocation by 2014.

"This reflects our shared determination to realize the new alliance posture expeditiously and in a manner that strengthens deterrence while reducing the size of the U.S. footprint in Okinawa," said David Sydney, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, according to Kyodo News agency.

Economic turmoil

The turmoil on Wall Street could strain the U.S. government's budget, but from a national defense perspective, the planned military buildup on Guam will move forward, retired Marine Maj. Gen. David Bice, executive director of the Joint Guam Program Office, told the Pacific Daily News last month.

"The relocation is going to occur," Bice said.

The next major step that needs to be cleared before any construction related to the Marines' relocation is the Environmental Impact Statement, which is expected to be out by early next year.

Part of the environmental clearance process' goal: to prevent or mitigate harm to protected species and to the host community's environment.The Defense Department also wants to ensure that culturally significant sites on Guam, as well as in the Northern Marianas, where a Marine training site is proposed, aren't adversely affected, Bice said.

While getting the federal environmental clearance is a complex task, Bice said the efforts toward the buildup are on track.

10,000 to remain

As earlier projected, the Defense Department still is targeting the Marine relocation-related construction on Guam to start in January 2010, Bice said. The projected completion date is 2014.

The plan includes relocation the Marines to Guam and realigning the Japan Self-Defense Forces to complement the U.S. realignments, according to the Defense Department.

The plan is expected to reduce the U.S. footprint in Japan to about 10,000 Marines, while taking advantage of opportunities provided in Guam. Japan has agreed to pick up about $6 billion of the cost involved.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates visited Guam in May to get a firsthand look at growth under way to prepare for the Marines' arrival.

The secretary took a helicopter tour of Andersen Air Force Base, Naval Base Guam and other island facilities to see construction already started in preparation of the arrival of members of 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force and an estimated 9,000 family members, according to the American Forces Press Service.

'Historic mission'

"All in all, it will be one of the largest movements of military assets in decades and continue the historic mission of the United States military presence on Guam: to serve as the nation's first line of defense and to maintain a robust military presence in a critical part of the world," Gates said, according to the press service.

Keating called the recent move of the USS George Washington to Japan a broad-reaching transformational issue in the region. The Navy's only forward-deployed aircraft carrier arrived at Fleet Activities Yokosuka Sept. 25, and headed out to sea Oct. 1 for its first operational training in the region. The George Washington recently visited Guam.

"The support of the Japanese government in moving a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to Japan was ... significant," Keating said to the press service. "It's been years in the making, and it's a very strong signal of the spirit of cooperation that's so prevalent in our dealings with Japan."

Keating spoke in broad terms about challenges in the Asia-Pacific region that spans half the globe, emphasizing the importance of partnerships in the U.S. the security cooperation plan.

"We want to represent the strength and the capabilities of the United States military, but we don't want to overdo that," he said. "We would much rather have a cooperative and collaborative atmosphere that we enjoy in almost every part of our (area of responsibility) rather than rely on military power."

'Areas of concern'

Meanwhile, Keating told the press service that the U.S. Pacific Command is watching closely the "potential areas of concern" in its region. These include terrorist threats in the Southern Philippines from the Jamaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf organizations; as well as tensions between Indian and Pakistan, North and South Korea and China and Taiwan.

Keating said he continuously emphasizes the importance of multilateral cooperation that promotes regional stability during his meetings with military, political and commercial leaders.

"We do all that we can to reassure all of our partners and allies and friends in the region that we are all about a stable, secure environment with economic prosperity for all," he said.

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