TOKYO — Japan on Wednesday enacted a law to allow the Self-Defense Forces to conduct rescue missions for foreign nationals only, after Tokyo failed to evacuate many of its local embassy staff in Afghanistan following the Taliban’s return to power last August.
The House of Councillors passed a bill to remove a restriction in the law on SDF operations limiting the rescue of non-Japanese individuals to those accompanying Japanese citizens.
When Afghanistan fell to the Taliban after the United States began pulling out its troops in spring last year, the SDF was dispatched to evacuate around 500 people, including local employees of the Japanese Embassy and the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
But the SDF was able to rescue only a dozen local people due to the legal restrictions, spurring criticism and calls for revision of the legislation.
The revised law will also allow the use of SDF transport planes in a broader range of missions, in a shift from the principle that the use of government aircraft should be prioritized for evacuation.
Prior to the revision, the SDF could carry out evacuations only from a “safe place,” but the Japanese government will now be able to undertake such missions so long as it “takes measures” to avoid danger based on discussions between the defense and foreign ministers.
During the Afghan evacuation operations, SDF personnel could not venture outside a local airport that was deemed a safe place under the law. Many evacuees failed to reach the airport on their own due to strict Taliban checkpoints and deteriorating security conditions.
Japan’s Cabinet approved the bill in early February, and the House of Representatives passed it in mid-March.