Japan passes law to allow SDF to carry out evacuations only

Japan passes law to allow SDF to carry out evacuations only

TOKYO Kyodo enacted a law to allow the Self-Defense Forces to conduct rescue missions for foreign nationals only 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 Councillors passed a bill to remove a restriction on SDF operations that restricts the rescue of non-Japanese citizens to those accompanying Japanese citizens.

When the United States began pulling out of its troops in spring last year, the SDF sent 500 people to the Taliban, 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, but the SDF was able to rescue only a dozen local people.

In a shift from the principle that the use of 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 carry out evacuations only from a safe place, but the Japanese government will now be able to undertake 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 did not reach the airport on their own due to strict Taliban checkpoints and deteriorating security conditions.

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