Japan allows SDF to carry out evacuations only foreign nationals

Japan allows SDF to carry out evacuations only foreign nationals

Japan enacted a law to allow the Self-Defense Forces to conduct rescue missions involving only foreign nationals after Tokyo failed to evacuate many of its local embassy staff in Afghanistan after the Taliban's return to power last August.

The House of Councilors passed a bill that would remove a restriction on SDF operations that limits the rescue of non-Japanese citizens to those accompanying Japanese citizens.

When Afghanistan fell to the Taliban last year after the United States began withdrawing its troops, the SDF was dispatched to evacuate around 500 people, including local employees of the Japanese Embassy and the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

The legal restrictions caused criticism and calls for a revision of the legislation, and the SDF was able to rescue only a dozen local people.

In a shift from the principle that government aircraft should be prioritized for evacuation, the revised law will allow the use of SDF transport planes in a broader range of missions.

Prior to the revision, the SDF could only carry out evacuations from a safe place, but the government will now be able to carry out such missions as long as it takes measures to avoid danger based on discussions between the defense and foreign ministers.

SDF personnel could not venture outside a local airport that was deemed to be a safe place during the Afghan evacuation operations. Many evacuees didn't reach the airport on their own due to strict Taliban checkpoints and deteriorating security conditions.

The bill was approved in early February by the Cabinet, and the House of Representatives passed it in mid-March.