United States Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday thanked American forces in Japan for their quake and tsunami relief operations, as well as for their services in the wars of the post-9/11 era.
Biden was speaking a day after visiting Japan's devastated coastline and Sendai's international airport, which US troops restored as part of "Operation Tomodachi" (Friend) after it was inundated by the massive March 11 tsunami.
"You are the finest warriors that the world has ever, ever seen," Biden told 700 service members at Yokota Air Force Base west of Tokyo, at the end of an Asia tour that earlier saw him visit China and Mongolia.
The US, which has maintained bases across Japan since World War II, mobilised more than 20,000 troops and some 160 aircraft in rescue, relief and recovery operations after Japan's worst post-WWII catastrophe.
The US aid effort helped rebuild relations which were long strained by a dispute over an American airbase on Japan's Okinawa island.
"Thank you for making America look as good as we are," Biden said. "You are the best face America has to put forward. You did it here in Japan in the way not only the Japanese recognised but the whole world recognised."
Biden met Japan's outgoing centre-left Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Tuesday, who thanked him for the United States' "enormous assistance".
The vice president -- speaking weeks before the 10-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks -- also expressed gratitude to US forces for their service in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Some of you were just kids when this attack took place, but your generation, the 9/11 generation, has grown into the greatest generation in this nation's history," Biden told them.
"More than 2,800,000 of you have come on board since the 9/11 attacks -- knowing, knowing, knowing you're likely to be deployed in harm's way, and in some cases many of you have been deployed five, six times."
Biden recounted the toll of those conflicts, saying 4,477 US service members had been killed in Iraq and 1,737 in Afghanistan, while more than 40,000 had been wounded, including 17,000 who will need lifelong medical care.
"It may be true that only one percent of our population fights our wars, but that one percent is made up of the most extraordinary women and men this country has ever known in any generation," Biden said.
After the base visit, he left to fly on to the US state of Hawaii.