Photo/IllutrationDefense Minister Itsunori Onodera raises his hand to answer questions from Hiroe Makiyama of the Democratic Party in the Upper House committee on foreign affairs and defense on April 5. (Takeshi Iwashita)

The Ground Self-Defense Force in March 2017 found daily logs about its mission in Iraq but withheld the discovery from two defense ministers, the current defense chief said April 4.

The finding came a month after then Defense Minister Tomomi Inada told the Diet that her ministry could not locate the daily logs that were compiled by GSDF members dispatched to Iraq from 2004 to 2006 to help rebuild the war-torn country.

The GSDF, in fact, never informed Inada about the discovery when she was at the post, according to Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera.

Onodera himself had to wait until March this year to be told about the finding of the logs.

“It is extremely lamentable,” Onodera said about the delay on April 4.

Opposition party members in the Upper House committee on foreign affairs and defense on April 5 said the withholding of the information underscores serious problems with the defense minister’s civilian control over the SDF.

The Diet affairs committee chairs of six opposition parties, including the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, agreed to demand intensive deliberations about the delay in the Lower House Budget Committee.

However, Onodera countered their view.

“If civilian control is not working, there is a possibility that (the discovery of the logs) would not have been announced,” he said. “Under civilian control, I will clarify the truth.”

He set up an investigation team, led by Parliamentary Vice Defense Minister Keitaro Ono, to look into the reasons for the delay.

Lawmakers and citizens groups have sought such GSDF information to check for possible violations of the special measures law that was enacted for the dispatch to Iraq.

During Inada’s tenure, questions were also raised about whether the GSDF was operating in a combat zone in South Sudan during its participation in a U.N.-led peacekeeping operation.

She said the GSDF’s daily logs written in the African nation had been “discarded.”

On Feb. 20, 2017, Yuichi Goto, then a lawmaker of the opposition Democratic Party, asked Inada in the Diet about the logs from Iraq in relation to the situation in South Sudan.

“We could not find them,” Inada replied.

Two days later, she ordered ministry officials to conduct a further search.

On March 27 that year, the GSDF Ground Research and Development Command (GRD), which initially denied it had kept the Iraq logs, discovered them on one of its external disks. Several GRD members knew about the finding.

“Although members, including the head of the education and training section of the GRD’s general research division, confirmed the existence (of the Iraq logs), they did not report the finding to Inada, vice ministers or other officials of the ministry,” Onodera said.

At that time, the ministry was investigating whether high-ranking officials were involved in a suspected cover-up of the South Sudan logs.

After Inada had said those logs no longer existed, they were found within the GSDF, leading in part to her resignation as defense chief.

But the GSDF still remained silent about the discovery of the Iraq logs.

“As the investigation was about the South Sudan daily logs, I did not think that it was necessary to report the Iraq logs,” Onodera quoted the head of the education and training section as saying.

On April 2 this year, Onodera revealed the existence of the Iraq logs and apologized. He said he did not know when the GRD had found them.

On the evening of April 3, the GSDF chief of staff received a report about the Iraq logs from the head of the education and training research headquarters, successor to the GRD.

Onodera said he learned the date of the discovery on the morning of April 4.

On the same day, the Defense Ministry corrected the total number of days covered by the Iraq daily logs to 408 from the initially announced 376.