The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Self-Defense Forces will open its first full-fledged overseas base on Wednesday, a facility in Djibouti that will enable the SDF to beef up an antipiracy mission off Somalia that could continue for years, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.
The government plans to have the facility in northeastern Africa serve as a major base for future international contributions by the SDF in the Middle East and Africa, government officials said Saturday.
About 150 members of the Maritime Self-Defense and Ground Self-Defense forces, plus reinforcements of about 20 personnel, will be stationed at the base. The SDF will be responsible for security at the facility, government officials said.
The region around Djibouti has been a key arena in U.S. antiterrorism operations, so the SDF installation is expected to strengthen the bilateral Japan-U.S. alliance, the government officials said.
The SDF has been leasing part of a U.S. base in the capital, Djibouti city, for the past two years.
An administration building, dining hall, aircraft tarmac and a hanger for aircraft repair and maintenance have been built or are nearly completed at the SDF base, which is near the U.S. base.
A gymnasium large enough for SDF personnel to play futsal and other sports also has been built, according to the officials.
A senior Defense Ministry official said the facility is “intended to be used so we can conduct our activities in the region for about 10 years.”
The facility will be the first de facto overseas base for stationing SDF personnel abroad.
Facing the Gulf of Aden next to Somalia, Djibouti is about 10,000 kilometers from Japan. Its strategic location made it an ideal choice to set up a base from which to conduct patrols and surveillance against pirates in the region.
Since the SDF’s mission in the region is expected to continue for some time, the government decided to establish a base for Japanese personnel in that country, according to the government officials.
The new facility, built in line with the Antipiracy Countermeasures Law that was enacted in 2009, has “residential properties”–unlike conventional SDF camps abroad–that are hooked up to local utilities such as electricity and water supplies, according to the government officials.
SDF units previously dispatched to such countries as Cambodia and Iraq stayed no longer than two to three years. On those missions, the SDF units did not use local infrastructure, but instead provided their own electricity and water.
Construction of the SDF base reflects the likelihood that U.N. peacekeeping operations in the Middle East and Africa will continue for years, according to the government officials.
The base will serve as a relay point for SDF supplies and personnel, reducing the need to send transport aircraft whenever SDF personnel are dispatched on missions abroad, they said.
The government is scheduled to hold an opening ceremony for the base in Djibouti in late June, and plans to invite President Ismail Omar Guelleh.
Officially called Republic of Djibouti, the country has a territory of about 23,200 square kilometers–one-sixteenth of Japan’s–and a population of about 820,000, about the same as Fukui Prefecture.
Formerly a French colony, Djibouti attained independence in 1977. Guelleh was reelected to a third term as president in April.