KUWAIT CITY – Japanese air force (search) personnel arrived in Kuwait (search) on Friday as part of their government's mission to support relief and reconstruction efforts in southern Iraq -- a deployment that has prompted widespread opposition at home.
The pilots, maintenance personnel and administrative staff, are part of 1,000 troops that Japan has committed to sending to Iraq -- the country's first military deployment to a combat zone since World War II (search).
The 104 air force personnel boarded buses for the Ali Al Salem air base where they will be based for three months to assist with transporting relief supplies and reconstruction equipment to Iraq.
An advance team of the Japanese forces reached Samawah in southern Iraq on Monday.
The deployment of faces widespread opposition in Japan, where the constitution, adopted in 1947 during the U.S. postwar occupation of the country, renounces the use of force.
Near-daily images of guerrilla attacks and suicide bombings in Iraq have raised concern that Japanese troops could get drawn into fighting, and polls in Japan have found a majority of Japanese oppose the deployment. Japanese units will carry weapons but are only supposed to use them in self-defense.
Still, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's government has pressed ahead with what will be the largest and most dangerous deployment of Japanese troops since 1945, saying Japan has an international duty to share the risks in stabilizing Iraq.
Japan's military has contributed small contingents of noncombatant troops to U.N. peacekeeping missions for a decade, but only to countries where fighting had subsided.