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Japanese Troops Training At Camp Pendleton, Part of Larger Asia Focus

Hundreds of Japanese troops and Camp Pendleton Marines have trained together every year in Southern California since 2006.

Hundreds of Japanese troops and Camp Pendleton Marines have trained together every year in Southern California since 2006.

Photo by Rick Rogers

Marine Col. C.D. Taylor, commander of Camp Pendleton's 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and Japanese Col. Matsushi Kunii, commander of the Western Army Infantry Regiment, Japan Ground Self Defense Force, during a press conference at Camp Pendleton Feb. 11, 2013. The two are leading units working together in the Iron Fist exercise held in Southern California.

They typically receive little media attention as they go about their business on the expansive firing ranges of 29 Palms and conduct beach operations along the coast at Camp Pendleton.

But this year is different as demonstrated by the dozens of Japanese reporters who thronged a Camp Pendleton press conference this week.

That’s because the month-long operation Iron Fist is being held against the backdrop of rising tensions between Japan and China over disputed territory to Japan’s south.

In late January a Chinese frigate locked its targeting radar on a Japanese guard vessel near the contested Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, according to the Japan’s Defense Ministry.

Both countries lay claim to the handful of remote, uninhabited atolls believed perched atop rich deposits of gas and oil.

There are also rising tensions between Japan and Russia over other disputed islands that the former Soviet Union took in the waning days of World War II.

Domestically, the importance of Iron Fist lies in its timing and the fact that Japan is the Untied States strongest ally in a region increasingly seen as vital to its national security interests.

The U.S. military is currently robustly engaged in the “Asian Pivot,” an elegant turn of phrase describing the rebalancing of forces toward the Asian-Pacific region and away from Europe and the Middle East.

In the last few years, the Marine Corps has established a Marine training center in Darwin, Australia, while the Navy and Air Force have built up their forces on Guam.

More recently the Marine Corps announced interest in training in Vietnam, and the Army said it plans to post quick reaction teams around the world to respond to flash attacks like the one that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Libya last September.

The Marines have also reportedly beefed up its forces in Okinawa. Starting this summer some17,000 Marines will be there. The most in a decade, according to Time Magazine.

At Monday’s press conference Marine and Japanese leaders downplayed the significance of the Iron Fist exercise as it entered its final week.

“Whether is it North Korea or other countries, with the flare ups and the ups and downs of the Pacific drama to some degree, I think that we always have to be prepared,” said Col. C.D. Taylor, commander of the 13th Expeditionary Unit.

His Marines have been teaching the roughly 300 Japanese troops how to conduct amphibious landings and air assaults.

Japanese commander Col. Matsushi Kunii responded through a translator when asked what training his troops needed most.

“A system that integrates air, ground and maritime forces is one of the first things that we need to look at,” he reportedly said.

Those are the types of skills a military force would need to recapture an island taken by a rival.

Iron fist culminates tomorrow with a beach assault in Camp Pendleton.

This summer San Diego Marines will train with a larger Japanese force in exercise “Dawn Blitz.”


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