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In Obama Strategy, Cambodians See the Past

The new military strategy unveiled by US President Barack Obama on Tuesday will not be enough to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda without winning the hearts of the Afghan and Pakistani people, Cambodian officials said Thursday.

Obama announced Tuesday he would inject 30,000 more troops into a counterinsurgency strategy in the region, but he also gave a deadline of June 2011 to bring US forces home.

“It is very difficult to win against al Qaeda and the Taliban, but the United States military and NATO alliance must defeat the international terrorists, for peace and economic growth in the world,” said ruling Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker Cheam Yiep.

“This strategy is the United States’ ambition, to eliminate al Qaeda and the Taliban,” he said. “But the strategy cannot succeed…if the new strategy has no policy for social affairs to improve the living standards and economics of the Afghan people.”

The US should establish a strategy to compromise and fulfill the needs of the Afghan people to lessen the influence of the Islamists, he said.

In Cambodia, the effects of a failed counterinsurgency strategy are deeply felt. Khmer Rouge guerrillas overtook the entire country in less than 10 years, starting as a small peasant revolution in the countryside and ultimately defeating the US-backed forces of Lon Nol.

The Khmer Rouge victory, in April 1975, was followed by the implementation of “Year Zero,” where everyday Cambodians were marched out of the cities and into agricultural collectives, where eventually as many as 2 million people perished.

“If Obama does not have a new strategy for Afghanistan, the Kabul government will collapse, and there will be bloodshed more serious than the Khmer Rouge regime,” said Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc.

Phay Siphan, a government spokesman and a Cambodian-American whose nephew is serving in Afghanistan, said the US should be careful in its war there, considering its experiences in the Vietnam War.

The fate of the US in Afghanistan could end as badly, he said.