http://us.cnn.com/2012/04/27/world/a...html?hpt=hp_t3U.S.-Japan deal withdraws 9,000 Marines from Okinawa
By Bob Kovach and Chelsea J. Carter, CNN
updated 12:12 PM EDT, Fri April 27, 2012
Washington (CNN) -- Roughly half the U.S. Marines on Okinawa will be transferred under an agreement announced Thursday that will reduce the military footprint in Japan, easing local resentments over the amount of land being used by American forces.
Some 9,000 Marines along with their family members will be transferred under the agreement, with about 5,000 being sent to Guam as part of a military buildup on the U.S. territory in the Pacific, according to a joint statement released by the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee.
"I am very pleased that, after many years, we have reached this important agreement and plan of action," Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said.
The announcement by the committee, which included the top U.S. and Japanese defense officials, ends years of seesaw talks aimed at cutting the American presence on the island south of Tokyo.
Though no exact timetable was given for transfer of the Marines, preparations are under way at Guam.
"Recognizing the strong desires of Okinawa residents, these relocations are to be completed as soon as possible while ensuring operational capability throughout the process," the statement said.
Japan's foreign minister, Koichiro Genba, called the agreement satisfactory.
"It's forward-looking and meaningful, one that can act upon the changing security environment as well as reducing the burden on Okinawa," Genba said Friday morning.
Of the Marines being transferred, about 2,700 will be sent to Hawaii and still others will rotate through a base in Darwin, Australia. The relocations are in line with President Barack Obama's goal to have the military have a geographically-distributed presence in the Pacific.
The transfer leaves between 9,000 and 10,000 Marines belonging to the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force on Okinawa.
"So, in the end, we are sustaining the same -- the same presence in the western Pacific that we've intended for some time," said a senior U.S. defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as a matter of routine during a briefing with reporters.
It's hoped the reduction of forces on the island chain will reduce the friction between locals and military personnel, which has been exacerbated in recent years by cultural misunderstandings and isolated criminal acts.
The call for the U.S. military to leave Okinawa escalated following the 1995 rape of 12-year-old Japanese girl by three U.S. military personnel, a crime that outraged the Japanese and led to calls by many that American troops leave.
In 1996, spurred in part by Japanese anger on Okinawa, Washington and Tokyo signed an agreement to reduce the amount of land being occupied by U.S. forces.
About 40,000 U.S. personnel are based in Japan, though more than three-quarters of the military bases are located on Okinawa. At its height, U.S. military operations on Okinawa accounted for about 20 percent of the land use on the island chain.
In 2006, the U.S. and Japan reached an agreement that would relocate thousands of Marines off the island once the Marine Corps Air Station at Futenma was closed and moved to Camp Schwab. That plan stalled after widespread protests over the proposed location and costs for the new air base.
Futenma is not addressed under the agreement announced Thursday to move the Marines.
"I think what we've done with the agreement is ... to create the political space for the government of Japan to move this forward on its own timeline," the defense official said.
As part of the agreement, the United States will begin returning lands on Okinawa in phases as the Marines depart.
Part of the $8.6 billion cost to relocate the Marines from Okinawa to Guam will be picked up by Japan, which has agreed to pay $3.1 billion toward the costs, the Security Committee Statement said.
The U.S. military has had an almost continuous presence on Okinawa since 1945.
The Battle of Okinawa, which lasted 82 days from late March through June 1945, was the last major campaign for U.S. forces in the Pacific during World War II. More than 100,000 civilians, 100,000 Japanese troops and 12,000 Americans were believed to have died in the fighting for the island chain, roughly 1,000 miles south of Tokyo.
Okinawa has been a major launching point for U.S. forces over the years, and much of the U.S. assistance to last year's Japanese earthquake was launched from the bases.