TOKYO/ BRUSSELS (AFP/Reuters) - Japan on Friday ended a naval refuelling mission that has supported the US-led military effort in Afghanistan since 2001 as the centre-left government flexes its muscle in its ties with Washington. The move fulfils a pledge by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyamas government which ousted the long-ruling conservatives four months ago pledging a less subservient relationship with the United States. Japanese Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa ordered the two naval ships and their 340 personnel to return home after eight years of helping supply oil and water to vessels used by international forces that are engaged in Afghanistan. The defence minister issued an order ... today to the fleet commander to end refuelling activity in the Indian Ocean at 12:00pm (1500 GMT) on January 15 and to send the troops home, a ministry statement said. With the end of the refuelling mission, Hatoyama has pledged that Japan would instead step up humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. Tokyo has offered five billion dollars over the next five years to help rebuild the war-torn nation. Hatoyama, whose coalition includes the strongly pacifist Social Democrats, has stressed Japan would not deploy troops to Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Natos commander in Afghanistan believes the strategy of raising international troop numbers in the country is starting to turn the tide against the Taliban, the head of the military alliance said Friday. Speaking weeks before an international conference on Afghanistan in London on January 28, Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the gains were only a start and additional troop commitments were needed to maintain the momentum. Asked in an online question-and-answer session if he agreed with a view expressed this week by US and Nato commander General Stanley McChrystal that the tide in the 8-year war against the Taliban was turning, Rasmussen replied: I rely on General McChrystals sense of things on the ground. He meets a lot of people of all rank and station. Afghan officials and our troops in the field. The collective impression that they give him is that things are starting - but only starting to turn if we remain committed and improve our capability to build on this momentum. Rasmussen said there was also evidence of an increase in confidence among Afghanistans leaders, with a willingness to take a more active role in military planning and President Hamid Karzais travels outside Kabul to meet troops and local leaders. He reiterated a call on all nations contributing to the international effort in Afghanistan to look at what more they could provide in terms of troops, trainers for the Afghan armed forces, money or civilian experts.