Obama plans an "Asian pivot" designed to deploy more US troops around the Pacific Rim. As part of the plan there will be an increase in troops in Okinawa, and also explosives experts will be sent to Vietnam in July to train locals in clearing mines.
US Marines already have two battalions who are deployed permanently, mostly in Okinawa and Guam. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos announced that this would be increased by adding a third battalion. There will be troop increases in Okinawa.
A Vietnam mission is scheduled for this July. The immediate aim will be to train locals to dispose of unexploded land mines that still are a constant problem The Vietnam war ended in 1975 but huge quantities of unexploded mines were left behind causing many casualties and still posing a significant risk to many Vietnamese: Unexploded ordnance (UXO) has killed more than 42 000 people and injured more than 62 000 nearly four decades after the war ended, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung told the gathering.
The mines polluted an estimated one fifth of the total area of Vietnam at one time. The US has committed some funds to help clear the mines. This new deployment will add some expertise to the Vietnamese effort but after three decades of experience they must have some idea of what to do!'
The deployment of the experts is no doubt simply a step towards improving ties with a regime that shares a border with China but often has frosty relations with its northern neighbour. General Amos hoped that the Vietnam deployment would establish a training and operational relationship with the Vietnamese military. China may not be happy with this move right on its doorstep.
The Marine Corps will also send a contingent of electronic warfare aircraft to its air station in mainland Japan. General Amos also contemplates a future mission in Cambodia. The US is already planning to extend military and counter-terrorism aid to Cambodia in spite of the country's dismal human rights record.
From their base in Okinawa, US infantry units fan out to provide training in other locations such as Guam, Australia, and General Amos hopes the Philippines will be involved as well.
The commanding general of Marine Forces Pacific, Lt. Gen. Terry Robling said that missions in Malaysia, Indonesia, and India are also on the horizon. With simmering disputes between China, Vietnam, and the Philippines about ownership of islands, the US involvement in the area adds one more complicating factor.
As the US expands its military power in Asia, it no doubt wants also to increase trade with the ASEAN countries and pave the way for increased investment by global corporations from the US.