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The United States and Japan have unveiled a new plan that will reduce the U.S. footprint on the island of Okinawa while ensuring an effective military presence in the region, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday.
"Our plan calls for the immediate return -- upon the completion of certain necessary procedures -- of certain facilities and areas on Okinawa," Hagel said in a statement.
Hagel said the United States will return additional locations once replacement facilities are constructed and when "a sizeable contingent of U.S. Marine Corps forces" relocate to Guam and Hawaii.
"Now more than ever, it is essential that the United States maintain a geographically distributed and sustainable force throughout Asia that can provide for the protection of Japan and our other allies, and U.S. interests," Hagel said.
"We are resolved to focus our bilateral efforts on modernizing the alliance to meet emerging security challenges in the region," he added. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced in Tokyo the Japan-U.S. plan Friday on returning Okinawa's land used by the U.S. troops to the Japanese southernmost prefecture.
According to the plan, land used by the U.S. Futenma base will be returned to Japanese control in the fiscal year 2022 or later, reported Japan's Kyodo news agency.