Last week’s visit to Japan by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was a marked contrast to his 2009 visit. In 2009, Gates told the Japanese (and in particular the new Democratic Party of Japan government) that the 2006 agreement on a partial relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to other parts of Okinawa was “the best alternative for everyone” and warned the government of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama that Washington would not accept a renegotiation. Hatoyama was forced to resign less than a year later, in no small part due to the fact that he had staked his credibility on seeking an alternative to the 2006 agreement.
This time around, Gates was much more conciliatory, stating, “We intend to follow the lead of the Japanese government in working with the people of Okinawa to take their interests and their concerns into account.” The Japanese government is looking into finding accommodations for the helicopters and planes elsewhere in Japan, on the main islands of Kyushu, Honshu and Hokkaido.
South Korea continues to fortify Yeonpyeong island, which was hit by devastating North Korean artillery strikes in November. In addition to doubling the number of K-9 self-propelled howitzers stationed on the island, South Korea has decided to station four AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters on the island, as well counter-battery radar systems and Israeli-made Spike guided missiles. Last week, South Korea also held its first counter-invasion exercises designed to resist an invasion of South Korean islands on the border with North Korea. All of this preparation follows speculation that the North may again bombard the island with artillery, and reports that North Korean Special Forces have been training to invade and occupy five South Korean border islands.
An Australian Special Air Service is to receive the Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth’s highest medal for valor, for actions in Afghanistan. The SAS trooper was reportedly involved in an action in the northern Kandahar region, in which a four-man SAS patrol engaged insurgents during an operation to capture a Taliban leader. The identity of the trooper is being kept secret at this time.
Meanwhile, back in Australia, Australian Defense Forces are engaged in extensive relief operations to assist in the aftermath of massive flooding in the state of Victoria. Almost 20 helicopters are taking part, and fixed-wing military transports are bringing in food and supplies. On the ground, Australian troops in Bushmaster armored vehicles are rolling in to assist in search and recovery efforts. The flooding has killed at least one person and caused damages estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars.