Agence France Presse

Tokyo, February 26

Japan may have to review its troop strength if it is to increase its participation in non-combat missions abroad, the country’s defence chief said today.

"I think Japan should provide various contributions internationally from here on," Ishiba told a parliamentary national security committee. "But if we are asked to do these duties, it will be difficult in reality if we do not review our personnel numbers and structure," he said. Ishiba’s comments follow Japan’s historic dispatch of troops to Iraq, the first to a country where fighting is ongoing, starting in mid-January.

In January, Ishiba said that if it proved a success, Japan’s deployment of ground troops to Iraq for reconstruction work could pave the way for similar humanitarian missions in future. A total of 600 ground troops are due to be in Iraq by the end of March.

Japan also has some 400 troops in the Indian Ocean helping refuel US ships involved in operations in Afghanistan, 600 troops building bridges and roads in East Timor, and 40 troops providing food and water in the Golan Heights.