Sunday, November 22, 2009

Key marine force to leave Okinawa Prefecture

Key marine force to leave Okinawa Prefecture

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Satoshi Ogawa / Yomiuri Shimbun Correspondent

WASHINGTON--About 1,100 marines from a division specializing in amphibious and ground combat missions are among the troops to be relocated from Okinawa Prefecture to Guam as part of the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, it has been learned.

The transfer of 1,100 marines of the U.S. Navy 3rd Marine Division will increase the number of marines to be moved to Guam to 8,552 from an originally planned 8,000.

The relocation of the 1,100 marines was referred to in an environmental impact assessment report the U.S. Navy released Friday in connection with its planned construction of a naval base on Guam for the relocation.

The 3rd Marine Division was widely known for its role in fierce fighting on Iwo Jima island in the closing days of the Pacific War and saw heavy combat in the Vietnam War.

The "road map" for realigning U.S. forces in Japan that Tokyo and Washington agreed on in 2006 said the division's command would be shifted from Okinawa Prefecture to Guam, but made no mention of relocating the marines themselves.

The navy's environmental assessment report, however, noted ground combat troops need to be located "close to a firing range and training exercise area."

Given that a new firing range of the 3rd Marine Division will be built on the islands north of Guam in the Marianas, some of the division's troops likely will be moved to the planned Guam base, according to navy sources.

Moving the 3rd Division troops to Guam in addition to other marines currently stationed in Okinawa Prefecture would mean most of the U.S. Marine Corps' ground combat training exercises will be shifted to Guam, a development that will alleviate the prefecture's burden as a host of U.S. bases.

The navy report also disclosed for the first time a breakdown of marines covered by the relocation plan. Almost 3,050 will be marines under the command of the 3rd Maritime Expeditionary Force and related troops, 1,856 will be mainly from the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and 2,550 will be from the 3rd Marine Logistics Group.

The bulk of the division's personnel has been stationed at Camp Schwab in Nago. The functions of the Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Ginowan in the southern part of the prefecture are planned to be relocated to Camp Schwab, although this plan has been hanging by a thread due to political shuffling over the issue.

The navy's environmental assessment report describes the major missions of the 3rd Division as "destroying enemy troops by means of artillery fire, mobile combat operations and close-range fighting."

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