TOKYO - Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday hailed relief efforts by Japanese and American troops in the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan as a sign of the "special bond" between their countries.
In a joint statement marking 10 years since the disaster, they looked back on search-and-rescue operations and efforts to provide victims with supplies and transportation by the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military, as well as the response to the triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
"Then, as now, our joint efforts hold a special place in the hearts and memories of both our peoples -- a testament to the special bond and the unshakeable friendship that is the Japan-U.S. alliance," they said.
At the peak of the cooperation, dubbed "Operation Tomodachi," the United States had 24,000 personnel, 190 aircraft, and 24 Navy ships supporting relief efforts.
Biden, who at the time was vice president under Barack Obama, visited disaster-hit Natori and Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture five months after the magnitude-9.0 quake struck the northeastern region on March 11, 2011.
There, the joint statement said, Biden saw "the incredible strength and resilience of the Japanese people."
"We must not forget that, even after 10 years, many of those affected continue to struggle in the wake of the disaster," the leaders said.
"In support of these individuals and to honor those we lost, Japan and the United States will continue to move forward shoulder-to-shoulder as 'tomodachi' (friends) to finish the reconstruction of the Tohoku region and to realize a better future for us all."