Photo/IllutrationDefense Minister Itsunori Onodera on April 6 announces the discovery of daily logs pertaining to Air Self-Defense Force operations in Iraq more than a decade ago. (Hirotaka Kojo)

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said April 6 that the Air Self-Defense Force had found some records of its daily operations in Iraq from around a decade ago following an in-house investigation.

Onodera said the files discovered at the Air Staff Office cover three days of the reconstruction mission that lasted from 2003 to 2009.

Only two days ago, Onodera admitted that logs the government previously said did not exist were actually found in March 2017, but the information was mysteriously withheld.

The internal investigation was triggered by an April 5 request by Shin Miyakawa of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, a Lower House member, after a public uproar into the way the government handles official records.

“It is very lamentable,” Onodera said of the delay.

The logs were found at the department that handles operations and intelligence. They were written by an ASDF member who was deployed to Iraq to assist in reconstruction efforts.

Yoshinari Marumo, the ASDF chief of staff, informed Onodera early April 6 that the logs had been found, and Onodera duly reported the matter to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that morning.

Abe instructed Onodera to waste no time announcing the discovery of the files.

With regard to the contents, Onodera made clear they would be revealed once it had been ascertained there was nothing that could compromise national security issues.

In February 2017, when Tomomi Inada was defense minister, she instructed her ministry to search for logs pertaining to the Iraq mission. It turned out that the logs had turned up about a month later, but for some reason she was not informed. Inada ended up having to resign.

“Despite the defense minister's instructions, her message did not reach all levels of the staff. This is totally unacceptable, and could be construed as a serious problem that has implications concerning civilian control over their activities.”

Onodera pledged to continue to investigate the ASDF's record-keeping procedures and intends to order a check of files held by the Maritime SDF.

“He (Onodera) has apologized for sloppy record-keeping on three occasions during the week,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga noted at a news conference after the April 6 Cabinet meeting. “Every single staff member of the Defense Ministry needs to seriously take the fact to heart, and work to prevent such a problem from occurring again.”