WASHINGTON — U.S. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said Wednesday the country is considering reviewing its plan to relocate U.S. Marines in Okinawa to Guam in light of recent developments in North Korea and environmental concerns in Guam.
His testimony at the Senate Appropriations Committee suggests the Japan-U.S. agreement to relocate about 4,000 of some 19,000 Marines in Okinawa to Guam and another 5,000 to Hawaii could be subject to change and be delayed.
While stating, “We are still on plan to have Marines go to Guam,” Neller said, “the situation, strategically and operationally, as we’ve seen in the news recently, has changed.”
“The capabilities of our adversaries have changed, the dynamic there,” he added, apparently referring to North Korea, which has repeatedly test-fired ballistic missiles in defiance of international warnings not to do so.
On May 14, North Korea succeeded in launching a ballistic missile, which may have a range exceeding 4,000 kilometers that would put Guam within reach.
Neller also disclosed that Pacific Commander Adm. Harry Harris has “looked at different options for where they might at least temporarily base aircraft because of the evolving threat.”
The top Marine officer also indicated his concerns about training and maintaining the readiness of the force in Guam, Tinian and other islands as there are still environmental issues to be considered.
Some Japanese government officials and U.S. military experts have said if the Marines in Okinawa cannot be relocated to Guam, they could be relocated to Hawaii or the northern Australian city of Darwin.
A potential review of the relocation plan could spell further delays in relocating U.S. forces out of Okinawa, which has staunchly opposed the military presence in the island prefecture.