The United States Marines, whose live fire exercise was stopped on Tuesday last week because of one misaligned howitzer shell landing out of the exercise area in Hokkaido, have restarted their live ammunition drills amidst protests from residents of the area. Before the US forces – originally based in Okinawa – resumed their drills in the afternoon, the governments of Hokkaido and four other towns affected by the drill made their protests known to the Defense Ministry’s Hokkaido bureau.
The protest letter coming from the affected parties said that the Marines’ “unilateral notice of the drill’s resumption was extremely regrettable and we strongly protest against it.” The locals urged the ministry to “do everything to ensure the implementation of measures to prevent a recurrence” of the howitzer “mis-fire” incident. The protest letter was received by bureau chief Masaki Shimakawa, who vowed to the protesters that the ministry will continue to monitor and ask the U.S. military to take thorough preventive measures. Even Hokkaido Governor Harumi Takahashi expressed his concern about the resumption the live fire exercises, even as local protests were gaining strength. Takahashi and the leaders of the affected towns are set to visit the Defense Ministry next week to voice their pleas to Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, in hope that nothing untoward will happen, and all measures are taken to prevent the same error.
The incident happened on Tuesday, when the US Marines lost sight of a howitzer shell around the target during the drill at the exercise area – incidentally the Japan GSDF’s largest firing range – and located it later at a location 500 meters outside of the firing range. No one was injured in the incident, but the US forces in Japan face the same argument by their mere presence in Japan – most people view the US military as a safety hazard. Recently, Washington decided to deploy more MV-22 Osprey aircrafts to the US military contingent in Japan, which resulted in large protests in Okinawa. The US military’s cause is not helped by the fact that one of these transport aircraft crashed in Morocco in 2012.