Defense Activities

Two Decades of International Cooperation:
A Look Back on 20 Years of SDF Activities Abroad

Changes in the international community have meant that it has become increasingly more difficult for a single country to cope with global threats alone. In the midst of these changes, two decades have passed since the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) began to undertake activities internationally in order to provide support for peacekeeping missions and disaster relief efforts as well as to help prevent conflict and terrorism.

With the SDF expected to participate in a wider range of activities in more countries in the future, this special feature will look back on the international cooperation activities undertaken by the SDF over the past two decades in the following six areas.

  • Cooperative activities based on the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law Replenishment activities based on the former Replenishment Support Special Measures Law
  • Dispatch of minesweepers to the Persian Gulf
  • International disaster relief activities, etc.
  • Activities based on the Act on Special Measures concerning Humanitarian Relief and Reconstruction Work in Iraq
  • International peace cooperation operations
  • Anti-piracy measures

Dispatch of minesweeper vessels to the Persian Gulf (April 1991-October 1991)

These activities, which took place after the end of the Persian Gulf War, marked the first time the SDF were dispatched on a mission outside of Japan. Six minesweeper vessels were dispatched in order to remove and dispose of sea mines in the Persian Gulf in order to ensure the safe passage of Japanese ships. The unit disposed of a total of 34 sea mines during the mission.

SDF Engineer Unit repairing a road
SDF Engineer Unit repairing a road

UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) (September 1992-September 1993)

As the SDF’s first peacekeeping operation, the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) dispatched truce observers and an engineer unit to help repair damaged bridges and roads in Cambodia. Transport units from the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) and Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) also dispatched a transport squadron to transport fuel and water to other peacekeeping units on the ground in Cambodia.

UN Operation in Mozambique (ONUMOZ) (May 1993-January 1995)

As Japan’s second peacekeeping operation, the SDF dispatched headquarters staff and a transportation coordination unit to participate in ONUMOZ. Command personnel drafted an operational plan as well as planned and coordinated transport, while the transport unit helped coordinate the arrival of personnel and supplies at airports and seaports.

Humanitarian Relief Operation for Rwandan refugees (September 1994-December 1994)

As its first-ever international humanitarian relief activity, the SDF dispatched a unit and liaison/coordination personnel to Zaire (currently the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Kenya in order to provide assistance to refugees from the Rwandan civil war. The unit provided medical and sanitation assistance as well as water and the transport of relief supplies primarily for refugee camps.

The UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) (February 1996-present)

With tensions continuing between Syria and Israel, the SDF has dispatched staff and a transport unit to the UNDOF to achieve stable peace in the Golan Heights. Activities have included the transport of supplies, road repair work and snow removal. This represents the SDF’s longest running peacekeeping operation, as activities continue today.

International disaster relief activities in Honduras (November 1998-December 1998)

GSDF units and medical officers were dispatched upon the request of the Republic of Honduras to provide assistance in the wake of a devastating hurricane to provide medical care and prevent epidemics. The ASDF also transported equipment from Japan and the United States to Honduras by air.

Transport vessel Osumi, which transported temporary housing units
Transport vessel Osumi, which transported temporary housing units

International disaster relief activities in Turkey (September 1999-November 1999)

The SDF dispatched three vessels, including a transport ship, minesweeper tender and replenishment ship, upon the request of the government of Turkey in the wake of a major earthquake and transported approximately 500 temporary houses as an emergency relief supply for earthquake victims that had lost their homes.

Humanitarian Relief Operations in Timor-Leste (November 1999-February 2000)

Political unrest in East Timor created a large inflow of refugees into West Timor. The ASDF dispatched a large cargo plane at the request of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to transport relief supplies from Surabaya, Indonesia to Kuban by air.

Unloading of emergency relief supplies
Unloading of emergency relief supplies

International disaster relief activities in India (February 2001)

A GSDF relief supply unit and ASDF emergency relief air transport squadron were dispatched at the request of the government of India to areas in Western India that had been severely damaged in a major earthquake. The units transported blankets and tents as well as instructed local staff on how to set up the tents.

Humanitarian Relief Operations for Afganistan Refugees (October 2001)

At the request of the UNHCR, the SDF provided tents, blankets, water supply containers and mats to refugees in Afghanistan as part of anti-terrorism activities. The ASDF air transport squadron transported these relief supplies to Islamabad.

Cooperation and support activities based on the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law (November 2001-November 2007)

MSDF vessels were dispatched to the Indian Ocean under the former Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law enacted following the simultaneous terrorism attacks in the United States. The vessels supplied fuel and water to various foreign naval ships engaged in anti-terrorism activities. The ASDF also provided assistance by transporting supplies for the United States military forces.

SDF Engineer Unit repairing a bridge
SDF Engineer Unit repairing a bridge

UN Transitional Administration in Timor-Leste (UNTAET) (February 2002-June 2004)

The SDF dispatched personnel to the UNTAET headquarters at the request of the United Nations. Later, the SDF dispatched an engineer unit consisting of 680 men and women, which represents Japan’s largest peacekeeping force to date. This also marked the first time that female personnel from Japan took part in a peacekeeping operation. The unit helped repair and maintain roads and bridges as well as maintain water supply stations used by local residents.

Humanitarian Relief Operations for Iraq Refugees (March 2003-April 2003)

Upon the request of the UNHCR, which had advanced refugee assistance following the War in Iraq, the ASDF dispatched the Iraq Refugee Relief Air Transport Squadron to Amman, Jordan in order to provide humanitarian assistance. The squadron transported relief supplies, including tents.

C-130H transport aircraft departing for Iraq
C-130H transport aircraft departing for Iraq

Humanitarian Relief Operations for Iraq Victims (July 2003-August 2003)

At the request of the World Food Programme (WFP), the ASDF used a large cargo plane to transport approximately 140 tons of relief supplies between Italy and Jordan, in order to provide assistance to the victims of the War in Iraq.

Transportetion of goods necessary for the international disaster relief activities in Iran (December 2003-January 2004)

In the wake of the major earthquake that struck Southeast Iran, the ASDF used two large cargo planes to transport approximately 12 tons of emergency relief supplies provided by JICA to Kerman Province, which suffered significant damage.

Activities based on the Law concerning the Special Measures on Humanitarian Relief and Reconstruction Assistance and Support Activities for Ensuring Security in Iraq (December 2003-February 2009)

Following assistance provided to refugees in Iraq at the beginning of 2003, the GSDF provided water, medical assistance, school and road repairs and general construction as part of its mission to provide humanitarian and reconstruction assistance as well as help ensure the stability of Iraq. The ASDF also played a vital role in the international reconstruction effort by transporting supplies between Kuwait and Iraq.

International disaster relief activities in Thailand (December 2004-January 2005)

At the request of the government of Thailand an MSDF unit that was on its way back to Japan from its support activities under the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law rushed to the scene to help search for victims in the wake of the tsunami that hit the country following the Sumatra earthquake. In addition to the collection of victims’ bodies from the ocean, the MSDF also transported international emergency aid teams and equipment by air.

International disaster relief activities in Indonesia (January 2005-March 2005)

Units from the GSDF, MSDF and ASDF were dispatched at the request of the government of Indonesia in the wake of the Sumatra earthquake and tsunami. This marked the first time that SDF helicopters were dispatched for international disaster relief activities. The mission also served as a test for joint operations, as the GSDF helicopters were transported atop a MSDF vessel.

International disaster relief activities off Kamchatka Peninsula of the Russian Federation (August 2005)

Four MSDF vessels, including a submarine rescue ship, were dispatched at the request of the Russian government to help rescue the crew of a Russian Navy submarine off the coast of the Kamchatka peninsula that was unable to surface. The submarine’s crew was rescued by a Royal Navy submarine rescue ship, but the Russian government also lauded the MSDF’s rapid response.

SDF personnel transporting relief supplies
SDF personnel transporting relief supplies

International disaster relief activities in Pakistan (October 2005-December 2005)

At the request of the government of Pakistan following a major earthquake in the country the ASDF used a large cargo plane to transport six GSDF helicopters to the quake zone. The helicopters were used to transport 131 tons of relief supplies, including medicines and tents, as well as 824 victims of the disaster.

Medical care at an aid station in Bunder Village
Medical care at an aid station in Bunder Village

International disaster relief activities in Indonesia (June 2006)

An international emergency medical aid air transport squadron and other personnel were dispatched to the Special Region of Yogyakarta that had suffered significant damage from a major earthquake that struck off the coast of Java. GSDF medical officers and other personnel provided medical assistance locally, performing medical exams for or giving vaccinations to some 5,400 people.

The United Nations Mission in Nepal (March 2007-January 2011)

SDF personnel were dispatched to the UNMIN as military observers in order to maintain stability in the region following the end of many years of armed conflict between the Nepalese Army and Maoist forces. SDF personnel observed the management of weapons and soldiers in camps and barracks. Their actions helped to ensure stability in Nepal after the peace accord.

Replenishment support activities based on the Replenishment Support Special Measures Law (January 2008-January 2010)

Activities were temporarily suspended because the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law expired, but these activities were restarted with the passing of the Replenishment Support Special Measures Law. The mission included supplying water as well as helicopter and ship fuel to foreign naval ships engaged in anti-terrorism activities in the Indian Ocean.

A SDF personnel reporting about the situation of the vehicles in his sector
A SDF personnel reporting about the situation of the vehicles in his sector

The United Nations Mission in Sudan (October 2008-September 2011)

SDF personnel were dispatched to the UNMIS as headquarters staff following the end of the ongoing civil war in Sudan. The SDF personnel helped ensure stability locally working as “Logistics” staff to coordinate logistics operations and information staff to manage databases.

Destroyers protecting private vessels
Destroyers protecting private vessels

Anti-piracy measures off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden (March 2009-present)

A surface unit and air unit have been dispatched to the Gulf of Aden area where a number of piracy incidents are taking place in order to ensure the safe passage of private-sector vessels. Forces include a P-3C patrol plane used for warning and surveillance activities and two destroyers to protect civilian commercial ships transiting the area. GSDF personnel were also dispatched to provide security for the air unit’s facility located in Djibouti.

International disaster relief activities in Indonesia (October 2009)

Upon the request of the government of Indonesia, following a major earthquake that occurred off Padang that caused more than 1,000 deaths, the SDF dispatched a medical assistance unit to the scene. The three medical officers and other personnel from the unit provided emergency medical care to a total of 919 patients.

A SDF personnel treating an individual injured by the disaster
A SDF personnel treating an individual injured by the disaster

International disaster relief activities in Haiti (January 2010-February 2010)

Upon the request of the government of Haiti following a major earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people, an ASDF transport plane that had been training in the United States was dispatched to help transport aid personnel and victims of the disaster. A medical assistance unit from the GSDF was also dispatched and provided medical care to a total of 2954 people locally as part of the SDF’s emergency disaster relief mission.

The United Nations Stabilization Missions in Haiti (February 2010-present)

MINUSTAH, which was established prior to the earthquake, decided to increase the number of personnel in order to support the post-quake reconstruction effort. Japan received a request from the UN for assistance and dispatched a GSDF engineer unit that brought heavy machinery and other equipment to clear rubble, repair roads and perform simple engineering as well as construction work.

SDF personnel removing relief supplies from a transport aircraft
SDF personnel removing relief supplies from a transport aircraft

International disaster relief activities in Pakistan (August 2010-October 2010)

Upon the request of local governments in Pakistan, following flood damage resulting from torrential rains, a joint rescue unit was dispatched to the country consisting of personnel from the GSDF, MSDF and ASDF. An MSDF transport ship, ASDF C130H transport plane and six GSDF helicopters helped transport approximately 260 tons of relief supplies and 49 aid officials.

The United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (September 2010-present)

UNMIT was established in the newly independent Timor-Leste and at the request of the UN two SDF personnel were dispatched from Japan as military liaison officers. The SDF personnel collected information to monitor civic order throughout the country to ensure that the ceasefire was followed.

Transportation of personnel and resources necessary for the implementation of international disaster relief activities in New Zealand (February 2011-March 2011)

At the request of the New Zealand government following the major earthquake that struck near Christchurch, the SDF organized an international disaster relief air transport unit to transport an rescue team consisting of personnel from the National Police Agency, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency and the Japan Coast Guard. The unit used a government aircraft to transport the rescue team, which was one of the first to arrive in the country.

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