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The U.S. will move as many as 2,700 Marines to Hawaii from Japan as the Pentagon scales back a $21.1 billion blueprint to station forces in Guam, people familiar with the plan said.
The Pentagon is expected to announce as soon as today that it intends to send about 4,700 U.S. Marines now stationed in Japan to Guam, as previously reported, as well as the contingent going to Hawaii, according to two people familiar with the plan, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the details haven’t been made public.
Under a 2006 agreement with Japan, 8,600 Marines and 9,000 dependents were to be transferred from the island of Okinawa in Japan almost 1,500 miles (2,413 kilometers) south to Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific, by 2014. Now, the Obama administration is seeking a less costly plan in a time of defense spending cutbacks even as its strategy places added emphasis on projecting force in the Asia-Pacific region.
“We require additional information regarding how this proposal relates to the broader strategic concept of operations in the region,” leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee said in a letter yesterday to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Congress may reject any plan to move Marines from Japan until the Defense Department submits an independent assessment of its strategic posture in the Asia-Pacific region, Senators Carl Levin, John McCain and Jim Webb wrote. Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, is chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee; McCain of Arizona is the top Republican on the panel; and Webb, a Virginia Democrat, heads a subcommittee.
About 60 percent of the Marines going to Guam under the Pentagon plan will be based in the territory temporarily, known as “on rotation,” rather than being permanently stationed there, according to one of the people familiar with the plan.
Marines also will rotate through Australia, and hundreds will be stationed on the U.S. mainland, probably on the West Coast, the people said. While the number of Marines going to Guam under the revised plan was previously reported, the numbers to be based in Hawaii and the U.S. mainland hadn’t been resolved.
Okinawans have long called for the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to be closed, citing crime and pollution. The Obama administration’s plans to move Marine Corps expeditionary forces out of Japan are no longer contingent on progress in building a new site at Camp Schwab, near the Okinawan town of Henoko.
Panetta phoned Japan’s Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka on April 23 “to discuss the realignment of U.S. forces in Okinawa and Guam,” according to Navy Captain John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman.
“Panetta said he looked forward to an official announcement in the very near future outlining specifics of the mutually agreed-upon way forward,” Kirby said in a statement posted on the Pentagon’s website. Pentagon spokeswoman Leslie Hull-Ryde said yesterday she couldn’t provide details beyond Panetta’s call.
Japan’s bill for the relocation of the U.S. Marines will be $3.1 billion in 2012 dollars, a reduction from that nation’s initial commitment to provide as much as $6.09 billion to fund the move of some forces to Guam and to replace Futenma, according to the two people.
Levin, McCain and Webb said in their letter that they understood the administration plans to announce the agreement on moving forces out of Okinawa in advance of a visit by Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who is scheduled to meet with Obama on April 30.
Delegate Madeleine Bordallo, a Democrat who represents Guam in the U.S. Congress, called for a speedy implementation of the administration plan to “move forward with critical construction projects on Guam.”
“We are confident that the Department of Defense will continue to meet every requirement and answer every question raised by the Senate,” Bordallo said in an e-mailed statement. “I hope that at some point in the near future the Senators will be satisfied so that we can get the ball rolling.”
The Obama administration also is engaged in discussions with the Philippines and Australia as it seeks to realign forces in the region. Earlier this year, Philippine officials said they were seeking closer ties with the U.S., including a “rotating and more frequent” military presence to deter China from operating in disputed waters of the South China Sea.
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