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Cambodia Scraps a long-standing U.S. military development aid program, Accepts $150M From China

Earlier this year Cambodia canceled a joint military exercise with the United States, and Prime Minister Hun Sen has lobbied for the U.S. to forgive Cambodia’s $500 million in debts dating back to the 1970s

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Phnom Penh, April 8, 2017: In another sign of a diplomatic shift toward Beijing, Cambodia has scrapped a long-standing U.S. military development aid program.

“The Royal Government of Cambodia notified the Embassy last week of its decision to postpone indefinitely the mission of the U.S. Navy Mobile Construction Battalion – better known as the Seabees – which has been carrying out community service projects in underserved areas of Cambodia since 2008. The Cambodian government did not offer a reason for this decision,” Jay Raman, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, emailed VOA on Wednesday.

The decision ends a program that has run for nine years.

Earlier this year Cambodia canceled a joint military exercise with the United States, and Prime Minister Hun Sen has lobbied for the U.S. to forgive Cambodia’s $500 million in debts dating back to the 1970s.

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The Seabees ran a humanitarian program in Cambodia that included building schools, maternity wards and rural development projects. The projected budget through 2019 was $815,000 according a U.S. embassy spokesman.

However, Royal Cambodian Navy Commander Tea Vinh was quoted by local media as saying the Seabees were going on “vacation” and would complete their assigned projects.

The Seabees’ change of status is a further sign of Cambodia’s closeness with China. Cambodia has gone further than other Southeast Asian nations in courting China, and the shift away from Washington has continued under President Donald Trump despite Hun Sen’s professed admiration for him.

On Tuesday, Hun Sen thanked Beijing for a $150 million grant for the construction of a new sports stadium in the capital.

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“Thanks Mr. President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang and the Chinese people that provided support and offered this major grant to Cambodia … which reflects close friendship and cooperation between Cambodia and China,” the Cambodian leader wrote on Facebook.

In October, President Xi made an official visit and left behind $237 million in new aid. Some political analysts have said the increasing aid from China reflects a shift in Cambodia’s international politics toward an Asian neighbor that has no qualms about human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch has reported that during 2016, Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) “significantly escalated persecution on political grounds.”

Chheang Vannarith, chairman of the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies, told VOA in an email Wednesday that Cambodia was pursuing a more pragmatic foreign policy.

“Cambodia is against any hegemonic power or patron-type country. Cambodia is pro-Cambodia and this has been the core principle of Cambodia’s foreign policy,” he wrote. “However, over-dependency on any single country may challenge Cambodia’s permanent neutrality.”

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Sophal Ear, an associate professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College in Los Angeles, however, said Cambodia’s national interest should be the driver of its foreign policy.

“Increasing dependence on China has long-term negative implications, like any over-dependence on anyone. Cambodia should be independent.”
-VOA

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

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Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)