TOKYO – Japan's ruling coalition forced a bill through parliament Friday to revive a U.S.-backed anti-terror mission in the Indian Ocean, clearing the way for Japanese ships to return to the region after a months-long absence.
Following the vote, Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba ordered ships to prepare for dispatch. The fleet should leave port in two to three weeks and resume operations in five to six weeks, the ministry said.
Japan had refueled ships since 2001 in support of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, but was forced to abandon the mission in November when the resurgent opposition blocked an extension.
The measure enacted Friday will limit Japanese ships to refueling boats not directly involved in hostilities in Afghanistan, a restriction aimed at winning over a public wary of violating the spirit of the country's pacifist constitution.
The United States had lobbied hard for the mission, and U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer made a rare public foray into domestic politics on the issue by meeting with lawmakers to urge their support.
Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's government was deeply embarrassed by having to withdraw the mission in November, a step that cast doubt on how far Tokyo can back Washington in its global war on terrorist groups.
The lower house vote overruled the upper house's rejection of the bill earlier in the day.
Japan's naval mission in the region provided logistical support to forces involved in the war in Afghanistan. It mainly supplied fuel to coalition warships, including from the U.S., Britain and Pakistan, according to the Japanese government.