Japan to post intelligence officer at SDF antipiracy base in Djibouti

Source: Global Post

The Japanese government plans to station an intelligence officer at the Self-Defense Forces base for antipiracy operations in the East African country of Djibouti to gather information on terrorist activities and other security matters, a Japan-U.S. relations source said Saturday.

Arrangements are under way for the officer to work in coordination with U.S. military intelligence, the source said.

The move is intended for Japan to secure the Djibouti base on a long-term basis by setting up a role other than antipiracy and lead to a greater presence in U.N. peacekeeping operations in the Middle East and African region, the source added.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration is willing to enhance the SDF’s roles in international peacekeeping efforts, having paved the way for collective self-defense by reinterpreting the Constitution earlier this month, and wants to use the tiny Horn of Africa country as a base to that end.

It sees the need to quickly establish the new intelligence role at the base to ensure its ongoing use, as piracy incidents off Somalia have been decreasing sharply recently, according to the source.

The SDF’s first full-fledged overseas base was set up in 2011 after Japan first dispatched Maritime Self-Defense Force escort ships and P-3C surveillance aircraft in 2009 to protect commercial ships from pirate incidents. Japan joined U.S.- and British-led multinational forces there in 2013.

While the number may increase, a senior MSDF officer is now likely to be dispatched for the new role in the country where the U.S. military is based and the French and other militaries are also stationed, potentially allowing Japan to also gain operational knowledge of other countries’ forces.

The officer is also expected to gather information to protect Japanese nationals in emergencies, the source said, following the entanglement of 10 citizens in a hostage crisis in Algeria in January last year, during which Tokyo was criticized for its perceived ineffectiveness.

The United States welcomes the envisaged intelligence cooperation as a move leading to stronger SDF involvement in the region, according to the source.

U.S. President Barack Obama asked Abe during their summit in Tokyo in April for the SDF to take a more active role in U.N. peacekeeping in Africa amid tensions due to the growing presence of Islamic extremists.

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