The Japan plans to assign its army Self-Defense Forces (SDF) a new role on Nov. 15 as they prepare to dispatch a new batch of troops to peacekeeping in South Sudan under the UN.
The new mandate, which allows troops to go to the rescue of U.N. staff and others under attack, is part of the expanded role for the SDF under Japan’s new security legislation that took effect in March. The legislation, among other issues, has given personnel more leeway in their restricted use of weapons during U.N. peacekeeping operations.
This falls on the background of the visit of Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada to the war-torn country in October.
It is also the first time that the Japanese government will give SDF members the mandate to actually carry out any of the expanded roles under the security legislation.
The new role will be assigned to Ground Self-Defense Force troops who will be sent to South Sudan starting from Nov. 20 to replace the current 350-member unit engaging in the construction of roads and other infrastructure as part of the U.N. mission called UNMISS.
Infrastructure-building will remain the main task of the next batch of troops, but the Japanese government plans to enable them to additionally engage in a rescue mission in response to an urgent request. The troops are expected to finish preparations and become ready to perform the task around mid-December, the sources said.
Japan also plans to assign the troops another new role now possible under the security legislation, namely defend U.N. peacekeepers’ camps jointly with troops from other nations.
The government plans to seek Cabinet approval on Nov. 15 on the assignment of the rescue role in general. But the base camp defense role does not require Cabinet approval.
The issue of assignment of the two new roles has stirred controversy among people who are afraid that the new tasks could draw SDF members into military action for the first time since World War II and cost the lives of the troops or local people.
Expanding the role of the SDF overseas have been controversial in Japan in connection with its war-renouncing Constitution, which also bans the use of force to settle international disputes.
Apparently to ensure the safety of the SDF personnel as much as possible, the Japanese government plans to limit the SDF activities to the South Sudan capital of Juba and nearby areas, according to the sources.
The Japanese government has maintained that the situation in Juba, where the GSDF personnel are stationed, is relatively calm.