TOKYO- Japan’s air force on Monday began withdrawing its forces from Kuwait, which has been used for flying supplies and personnel into Iraq in support of U.S.-led military operations for almost five years.

The winding down of a mission long dogged by accusations that it breached Japan’s pacifist constitution comes days after parliament agreed to extend a naval refuelling mission in support of Washington and its allies in Afghanistan.

One of three C-130 transport aircraft based in Kuwait had taken off for the trip home, a spokeswoman for the Defence Ministry said.

The 200 or so Japanese troops in Kuwait are scheduled to return home by the end of the year, ending Japan’s military involvement in Iraq. Japan withdrew its 500 ground troops from a reconstruction mission to southern Iraq in 2006.

With its Iraq mission ending, Japan has come under pressure from the United States to step up its activities in Afghanistan, domestic media reports have said. Tokyo is also considering sending its navy to help protect ships from increasingly brazen pirate attacks off Somalia, reports have said.

Any such missions are fraught with problems for Japan, whose post-World War Two pacifist constitution strictly curtails its military activities abroad, requiring a new law to be passed in each case.

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