Former SDF commander: Sudan evacuation the right call

Japan's government is preparing to help its citizens evacuate from Sudan after nearly a week of fighting between the military and a paramilitary group. Defense Minister Hamada Yasukazu says Self-Defense Force aircraft will fly to a base in nearby Djibouti.

Transportation of Japanese Nationals Overseas

Former Air Self-Defense Force Lieutenant General Kaneko Shinichi told NHK that the government only uses the Self-Defense Forces as a last resort, so officials must see it as the only option available. Kaneko also said the operation known as Transportation of Japanese Nationals Overseas, or TJNO, is the right decision and praised officials for moving quickly.

Kaneko Shinichi, a former commander with the Air Self-Defense Force

"The quick decision can provide the TJNO commander and his units with an adequate time frame for deployment, staging, preparation and execution," he said.

A week of fighting has claimed more than 330 lives in Sudan.

Kaneko said it is essential to be able to react quickly, so being geographically close is key. He said the unit will on standby in Djibouti 24 hours a day, ready to fly to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, at any time.

The Self-Defense Forces already operate anti-piracy missions out of Djibouti, so there are supplies and accommodation if the waiting period is long. And, said Kaneko, it would mean more up-to-date local information so they can better time the mission.

With so many moving parts, Kaneko said it is essential to keep the task force well-informed.

But he said it is unclear whether all those who wish to evacuate will be able to reach the rendezvous point safely. The SDF has said it is preparing to use ground transportation if necessary.

Lessons from Afghanistan evacuation

The last time the SDF tried to transport overseas Japanese nationals was in 2021 when the Taliban retook control of Afghanistan. Kaneko was responsible for that operation.

Back then, the government took a long time to consider the various options, including whether there were spare seats on other countries' aircraft. The decision to dispatch the SDF planes came too late and none of those wishing to evacuate made it to the airport on the day the aircraft arrived. On a subsequent attempt they flew one Japanese national out of the country. That operation generated criticism of the government and prompted a change in the rules for dispatching SDF aircraft.

"With the Afghan case in 2021, the situations were changing too fast," says Kaneko. He says he and his team were not given sufficient time and faced too many constraints from the start.

Kaneko said the team in Djibouti will have to gather information and adapt, but he thinks the evacuation is likely to succeed.

The Japanese defense ministry says the SDF unit should be ready as early as this weekend.

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