The US attacks on Afghanistan have drawn support from many Cambodians, including one group that might surprise some people: Former Khmer Rouge soldiers.
Men who dedicated most of their lives to fighting what they called US imperialism now say they support the current US bombing.
“I fully support these attacks because it is a different war than in Cambodia. It is not against a country and nation, but its purpose is fighting and eliminating terrorism in the world,” said Chea Bun Loun, a 50-year-old former Khmer Rouge soldier who lives in Pailin.
The former rebel, who joined the ultra-leftist movement in 1973 and eventually lost both of his legs in a land mine explosion, said he is watching with fascination the battles in Afghanistan on television, despite the memories the scenes evoke.
“I am very interested watching television, and every day I follow it to see about the situation of fighting in Afghanistan. It reminds me of what happened during 1970 to 1975. However, it can’t frighten me, even the bombs and missiles, because I am made immune by hearing and seeing it every day for more than 20 years,” Chea Bun Loun said.
The US began bombing Cambodia in 1969 because officials believed communist Vietnamese troops were using the country for sanctuary. The bombing became widespread, and in 1970 US and South Vietnamese forces invaded Cambodia. The bombing continued until public pressure at home forced former US president Richard Nixon to call a halt.
For other former Khmer Rouge soldiers, the images broadcast this week on television are horrific.
Toeb Sourng, now a 46-year-old RCAF soldier living in Pailin, joined the Khmer Rouge in 1971 in Kratie province, where he witnessed round-the-clock bombing.
“The B-52s dropped bombs and [we were] machine-gunned from aircraft for 24 hours. I felt very scared, but I had no other way because I served politicians. I just did what I was ordered to do then,” he said.
In 1974, a bomb dropped three meters from his bunker, knocking him unconscious.
Toeb Sourng said he couldn’t help but marvel at the power of this week’s US attacks.
“It is very modern, not only the weapons but the satellite and technology to pinpoint where the enemy is. I watch on TV aircraft dropping bombs and [ships firing] missiles shot. They are more awesome than in my time,” he said.
RCAF leaders say they support the US strikes, but said he hoped the US had learned its lessons from Cambodia.
“We support this strike against terrorism, but the operation should avoid killing any innocent people,” RCAF Infantry General Meas Sophea said.
Critics of the US bombing of Cambodia—both within and outside the US—have argued the bombings slaughtered innocent people and gave the moral high ground to the Khmer Rouge movement, which gained sympathy and volunteers by promising protection from the attacks.
Another RCAF official said the US seemed to be avoiding killing innocent people in Afghanistan.
“Their attack is planned clearly, with the right positions. They have support from satellites,” Deputy Infantry Commander General Mean Sarin said.
The US is not only doing this right, they are in the right, Mean Sarin said, and to him that makes all the difference.
“Lon Nol’s government and American soldiers were defeated by Khmer Rouge soldiers because of politics, not because of weapons. It was the same case in Vietnam. US soldiers would not have lost the war in Vietnam if they acted humanely and had not killed innocent people,” he said. Now the reverse is true, Mean Sarin said.
“[Osama] bin Laden did a cruel act, killing thousands of people and destroying the World Trade Center buildings,” he said.
Although siding with his old enemy, Chea Bun Loun said he could not help but admire the spirit of the Taliban fighters standing up to the awesome US arsenal, especially since they lack one key advantage he and his Khmer Rouge comrades had when they took on the same enemy.
“The Taliban is very strong, and fierce fighters,” he said. “I think, though, Taliban soldiers cannot hold up under this attack the way Cambodia did because they have no natural help, like forests, to prevent them from being seen by the pilots. And they have opposition groups against them.”