Japan extends Afghan mission for 1 year

Japan to keep warships in the Indian Ocean in support of U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan, a ruling party spokesman said Tuesday.

Japan's navy has provided fuel for coalition warships in the region since November 2001 under a special anti-terrorism law that was last extended for 2 years in 2003, but expires on Nov. 1.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party, strengthened in a landslide victory in the Sept. 11 elections, approved a bill that would extend the mission for 1 year, rather than 2 years.

Government officials say the one-year limit would allow Japan to respond if the situation in Afghanistan changes. The LDP plans to submit the legislation to parliament next Tuesday, said a party official, who asked not to be named.

"The timeframe would allow Japan to appropriately determine the need for its activities in line with the situation in surrounding areas, and to gain public understanding on what must be done," defense minister Yoshinori Ono told reporters Tuesday.

Japan has also stationed 600 non-combat troops in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah on a humanitarian mission to purify water, rebuild schools and other tasks, under a special law that was passed in 2003. That mission expires on Dec. 14.

Top government spokesman Hiroyuki Hosoda said Tuesday Japan had not yet decided whether to extend its mission to Iraq, though Koizumi has suggested that the mission there is not finished, reports the AP.

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