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Japanese military cleared for action
Japan's Self-Defence Force will not take part in fighting
By BBC Tokyo correspondent Charles Scanlon
The Japanese parliament has approved a bill that will allow the country's armed forces to support the US-led war against terrorism in Afghanistan. The law allows Japan to send its military overseas during an armed conflict for the first time since World War II. But it bars them from any combat role.
The Japanese Government was determined to give a visible sign of its support for the United States in the aftermath of the attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September. It has shown its commitment by rushing controversial legislation through parliament so it can play a role in the international coalition.
The new law allows the Japanese navy and air force to deliver fuel and other supplies to the American-led fleet. Search and rescue operations and humanitarian missions will also be permitted. Other amendments will allow Japanese troops to guard US military facilities in Japan and ease restrictions on the use of firearms.
The legislation is controversial because of Japan's peace constitution which has severely limited the activities of the Self Defence Forces (SDF), as they are officially known. They will still be forbidden from entering a combat zone, although how that is defined is left unclear.
The government appears keen to send a powerful naval detachment to the Indian Ocean as a symbol of Japanese support for the United States. Japanese politicians have been discussing similar amendments for years. Japan felt isolated during the Gulf War when it offered money but gave no tangible support to its allies. It has taken the shock of the attacks on the US last month to override the long-standing taboo on overseas military activity.
-- Swissrose (firstname.lastname@example.org), October 29, 2001