Pentagon expands special operations counterterrorism assistance in Cambodia

Source: Washington Post

The Pentagon is expanding counterterrorism assistance to unlikely corners of the globe as part of a strategy to deploy elite Special Operations forces as advisers to countries far from al-Qaeda’s strongholds in the Middle East and North Africa.

Much of the new assistance is being directed toward countries in Asia and has been fueled by the Obama administration’s strategic “pivot” to the region. In Cambodia, for example, the Defense Department is training a counterterrorism battalion of the country’s soldiers even though the nation has not faced a serious terrorist threat in nearly a decade.

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Last month, the commander of Army forces in the Pacific, after becoming the first U.S. military officer in a quarter-century to visit Burma, said the Pentagon would like to gradually build a relationship with the country’s military, but only if it meets strict conditions set by Congress, the White House and the State Department regarding human rights.

“They set the tone for what we can do and when we can do it,” Lt. Gen. Francis J. Wiercinski said in an interview. “I follow the law.”

The assistance to Cambodia comes as the Pentagon, with little public notice, has deployed teams of Special Operations forces to train counterterrorism and special-warfare forces in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Cambodia, despite concerns about human rights abuses in each country. The U.S. military resumed relations in 2010 with Indonesia’s special forces, a group blamed for atrocities during the country’s dark years of authoritarianism.

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In recent years, the U.S. government has kept a careful diplomatic distance from Hun Sen, the prime minister who consolidated political control after a bloody 1997 coup and has forced opponents into exile.

The Pentagon and State Department, however, have embraced Hun Sen’s three sons, each of whom hold influential posts in the Cambodian government and military.

U.S. officials have invested in their relationship with Hun Manet, the prime minister’s eldest son, in particular, giving him a free ride to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, from which he graduated in 1999. He earned a master’s degree in economics from New York University.

Today, the 35-year-old Hun Manet, widely seen as the heir apparent to his father, is a major general in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, in which he serves as deputy commander of the army.

“I’m sure that’s why he was sent to West Point in the first place,” said a government official from neighboring Thailand, which has closely monitored Hun Manet’s emergence. “Hun Sen would like to build up his credibility and career because he’s so young.”

The U.S. military also paid for the prime minister’s youngest son, Hun Many, 29, to earn a master’s degree in strategic studies at the National Defense University in Washington last year.

The U.S. military arranged for the middle son, Hun Manith, a senior intelligence official, to attend a counterterrorism course in Germany, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable obtained by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.

Read More: Washington Post

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