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Japan Reportedly Drops Troop Plan For Afghanistan

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda
TOKYO -- Japan has dropped a plan to send ground troops to Afghanistan after the ruling coalition failed to reach a consensus due to fears over the continuing violence in the area, Japanese media have reported.

Hard-pressed by the length of the campaign, the United States and NATO called on Japan to expand its support for military activities in Afghanistan, which currently consists of a naval refuelling mission in the Indian Ocean, the "Asahi" newspaper said.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda was quoted as saying last month that Japan could send ground troops. But fact-finding missions dispatched to the area determined that the level of violence would make it difficult for Japan to provide troops or equipment such as aircraft, "Asahi" and the Kyodo news agency said.

Buddhist-backed New Komeito, the junior partner to Fukuda's main ruling Liberal Democratic Party, has expressed grave doubts about the proposed mission, the paper said.

Nine U.S. soldiers were killed in a Taliban attack near the Pakistani border this week, bringing to 892 the number of foreign military deaths since the Taliban government was toppled in 2001.

Japan's military activities are strictly curtailed by a U.S.-drafted pacifist constitution and troops may only be dispatched overseas to areas defined as "noncombat" zones.

While dropping the plan for more military support, the government intends to continue the refuelling mission, whose mandate expires in January, by passing related laws later this year, the paper said.

Last year the ruling coalition faced a battle with the opposition-dominated upper house over renewing the mission, which the leader of the main opposition Democratic Party's leader Ichiro Ozawa said breached the constitution.

Fukuda forced the renewal bill through by passing it a second time in the lower house with a two-thirds majority, but even this would not be possible for any legislation that did not have the support of New Komeito.