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Okinawa Holdings Cut, But U.S. Presence Still Vital

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 19, 1996 – In a move to reduce the burden on the Japanese people without reducing U.S. military capability in the Asia-Pacific region, DoD is returning 20 percent of the land U.S. forces use in Okinawa.

The United States will maintain current troop strength of about 100,000, including 47,000 in Japan, according to Defense Secretary William J. Perry. DoD will relocate and consolidate troops and equipment at other bases in Japan.

"We could not eliminate the burden," Perry said during a press conference in Tokyo April 15. "Freedom is not free. The U.S. forces in Japan and Korea are not here for the convenience of the United States. We and the Japanese government believe they are necessary to preserve the security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region."

The United States currently occupies about 60,000 acres on Okinawa. The land being returned includes Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, two communications centers, large training areas and parts of several other U.S. bases.

DoD is also changing training procedures: eliminating artillery firing over a local highway, limiting night flights over residential areas and building noise barriers at airfields. Perry noted returning the Futenma air base will take a number of years, but training procedure changes will happen in a matter of months.

The dramatic changes in procedures and training are intended to reduce the intrusiveness, noise level and "footprint" of the U.S. forces in Okinawa, Perry said.

Japanese most recently protested the American militarys presence in Okinawa following the rape of an Okinawan school girl by three U.S. service members last fall. The incident focused attention on the islanders many objections to having U.S. forces in their communities.

The rape served as "a wake-up call," Perry said. "It caused us, both the U.S. government and the Japanese government, to look very hard and very seriously at this question of burden on the Okinawans. It led to my personal commitment to do what I could to try to reduce that burden, always giving the boundary that we had to be able to maintain readiness."

Perry set up a special action committee of U.S. and Japanese military and civilian officials to recommend fundamental basing changes. "We were looking for conclusions in a matter of a few months, not a matter of years," he said.

Perry visited Japan just before President Clintons mid-April Tokyo summit to strengthen the security alliance between the two nations.

Japanese officials agreed to pay for the costs of the U.S. returning the land, except for the cost of transferring some equipment to other facilities, Perry said. Japan also agreed to continue providing logistical support for U.S. forces and to study Japans role in the event of war. Both nations agreed to review 1978 guidelines for military cooperation.

"The U.S.-Japan security alliance has maintained peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region all through the Cold War," Perry said. "This security alliance and the forward presence of U.S. troops that support it has been the oxygen which has nourished the remarkable economic growth in the Asia-Pacific region for the last few decades."

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