Japan Ends Refueling Mission In Support of U.S.-Led Forces in Afghanistan

Japan's defense minister ended his country's naval operation in support of U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan on Thursday after a showdown in Parliament between the government and opposition lawmakers who are against the mission.

However, government officials vowed to pass new legislation soon to allow limited support in the international fight against terrorism.

Japan, America's top ally in Asia, has refueled coalition warships in the Indian Ocean since 2001, but opposition parties effectively scuttled the mission by raising concerns it was too broad and posed possible violations to Japan's postwar pacifist constitution.

The order to end the mission was made by Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba.

Legislation had been passed repeatedly to allow the mission, but the latest extension expired Thursday amid the stalemate in parliament. Japan refueled its final ship on Monday.

The two ships in the mission — a destroyer and a refueler, with 340 troops aboard — would begin heading for Japan later Thursday. It was expected to take them about three weeks to return, said Navy spokesman Kozo Okuda.