Hagel: U.S. will reduce forces in Okinawa

The U.S. and Japan have announced an initiative to reduce the U.S. footprint on Okinawa island, while still maintaining an effective presence in the region, Defense Secretary Check Hagel said Friday.

The plan was revealed in Tokyo as a key step in implementing the 2006 Realignment Roadmap. Every step needed to consolidate the U.S. presence in Okinawa is given, resulting in the re-establishing for 2500 acres of land to Japan, which was previously being used by U.S. forces. Officials said this is an essential step in creating a stable U.S. presence in Japan.

"Our plan calls for the immediate return -- upon the completion of certain necessary procedures -- of certain facilities and areas on Okinawa," Hagel said. "The United States will then return additional locations once replacement facilities are constructed, and when a sizeable contingent of U.S. Marine Corps forces relocate... outside Japan."

The creation of the plan required months of collaboration between Japanese Prime minister Shinzo Abe and Hagel. They are presently working to resolve the issue of the use of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma at Camp Schwab-Henoko Bay, while still keeping an alliance. The Defense Department and Japan's Defense Ministry will be implementing the plan.

U.S. Marine troops will be relocated to Guam and Hawaii, and Japan will contribute $114.3 million to build new facilities there to accommodate the forces. A permit request was also filed by the Japanese government last month to include a landfill on the replacement facility.

"Now more than ever, it is essential that the United States maintain a geographically distributed and sustainable force throughout Asia that can provide for the protection of Japan and our other allies, and U.S. interests," Hagel said. "We are resolved to focus our bilateral efforts on modernizing the alliance to meet emerging security challenges in the region."

"I look forward to continuing to partner with Prime Minister Abe and his administration to advance the bilateral security relationship of the United States and Japan," Hagel said.