U.S. forces to join relief efforts for central Japan quake from Jan. 17

The U.S. military plans to airlift supplies from Wednesday to support Japan’s relief efforts for areas in Ishikawa Prefecture damaged by a powerful earthquake on New Year’s Day, Japanese Defense Minister Minoru Kihara said.

The request by Japan to its key security ally was an “exceptional” one, Kihara told a press conference on Tuesday, given that Tokyo earlier declined personnel or material support from overseas, citing arrangement difficulties.

Two U.S. Army UH-60 helicopters will engage in the mission for two days through Thursday to deliver relief supplies from the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force’s Komatsu Air Base to an airport in Wajima, one of the cities on the Sea of Japan coast hardest hit by the magnitude-7.6 temblor, according to the Defense Ministry.

The ministry added that it will discuss with the U.S. side whether the choppers’ relief operation needs to extended beyond Thursday.

As the Japanese Self-Defense Forces’ manpower is needed for transporting evacuees from evacuation centers to hotels and other accommodation facilities outside the affected areas, Kihara said the government wants to make sure that supplies will continue to be delivered to areas in need with the help of the U.S. military “without delay.”

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel said in a post on the X platform that two Blackhawk helicopters will supplement Japan’s fleet, noting that the U.S. military and the SDF “are getting it done, side by side.”

Many foreign governments offered assistance in the wake of the disaster, but Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government had declined to receive any of the support apart from public donations.

Tokyo sought the U.S. military’s help as it has already its own transport aircraft in Japan that enable swift relief efforts without placing additional “burdens” on local authorities, Kihara said.

The quake has left over 220 people dead, while the number of people taking shelter at evacuation centers, hotels and other facilities totaled more than 17,000 as of Tuesday.

In 2011, when a massive earthquake-tsunami hit northeastern Japan, the U.S. military carried out search, rescue and recovery missions dubbed “Operation Tomodachi” after the Japanese word for “friend.”

By Muhammad Hussain