Published: 12 June 2012
Stars and Stripes | by Travis J. Tritten
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa The United States plans to add thousands of Marines to bases on Okinawa, swelling the ranks here to levels not seen since the end of the Cold War, even as Washington works with Japan on a new agreement to reduce the controversial American military presence on the island, the Department of Defense has confirmed.
Existing units will be filled to maximum potential and a unit deployment program will rotate in troops to boost the number of Marines on Okinawa from an average of 15,700 since the late 1990s to around 19,000 in advance of any eventual drawdown on the island, according to a senior DOD official who works closely on the issue and was authorized to speak on background.
Yet that number would be nearly double the size of the force of 10,000 Marines that U.S. and Japanese negotiators agreed to in April, after years of stalled efforts to reduce the American footprint on Okinawa. No timetable for reaching that reduced end-state number was specified in the agreement.
Yes, in the near-term there will be an increase in the actual number of Marines on the island, the DOD official said in an interview with Stars and Stripes. The authorized strengths of those units [on Okinawa] are between 19,000 and 20,000 today.
As the Marines come back from Afghanistan, we expect the number of Marines on Okinawa at any one time will be close to that number.
Filling out the forces on the island is a natural progression as combat operations end and troops begin returning to units that may have been depleted of personnel for the past decade, the official said.
Newly available Marines who are returning from Afghanistan as well as rotational deployments will be a key to adding the thousands of troops.
Additionally, about 800 Marines from Hawaii are expected to begin rotations to Okinawa this summer as the Marine Corps unit deployment program ramps up again after being dormant for the past decade, according to Capt. Gregory Wolf, a Marine Corps spokesman. The number of Marines who take part in the future still depends upon operations winding down in Afghanistan, Wolf wrote in an email to Stars and Stripes.
News of the planned increase in Marines on Okinawa has apparently not been shared with Okinawa officials.