From Volume 36, Issue 51 of EIR Online, Published Dec. 31, 2009
Asia News Digest

Afghan National Army: A Force To Forget About

Dec. 22 (EIRNS)—The centerpiece of President Obama's Af-Pak policy, unfolded at West Point on Dec. 1, was to build up a formidable Afghan National Army and hand over to it the security of Afghanistan. That would enable the United States to begin withdrawing troops by July 2011, said the President. However, the facts on the ground suggest that may never happen.

Following Obama's speech, the number two commander on the ground, Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, said the target now is to recruit 287,000 Afghan police and soldiers by July 2011 and just under 300,000 by the end of fiscal year 2011. But Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, in charge of NATO training of Afghan forces, emphasized the challenges involved in reaching an initial objective of 134,000 local forces by October 2010. "The biggest challenge is, how do we develop leaders for the Afghan army and the Afghan police. It's a huge challenge," he said. "How do we recruit more, retain more and reduce the attrition?"

On Dec. 22, National Public Radio carried Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson's report, "For U.S., Vast Challenge To Expand Afghan Forces." Nelson pointed out that indeed there is a recent surge among youth to join the ANA. In fact, U.S. military officials in Afghanistan reported that twice as many recruits joined the Afghan Army in the first two weeks of December as during the entire previous month. Afghan commanders predict that pay raises and signing bonuses that go into effect Dec. 23 will lure even more recruits. The raise means an average Afghan soldier and police officer will take home about $250 a month. That's about $50 less than Taliban militants are said to make each month during fighting season. But Afghan recruiters admit the surge of recruits is more likely linked to Afghanistan's brutal Winter and the resulting slowdown in Taliban fighting than to bonuses. Boot camp appeals to recruits, who get a lifestyle most cannot afford—regular meals, a warm place to sleep, socks, and new boots. What the Afghan government gets in return is hardly ideal. Fewer than one out of every nine Afghan soldiers can read and write. Police officers are also largely illiterate, and about 17% of them test positive for illegal drugs, Nelson said.

To speed recruits through their training, it has been cut from ten weeks to eight. That's because many soldiers and policemen exist only as names on paper, created by local commanders to collect bonuses. Christine Fair, an assistant professor at Georgetown University, co-authored a U.S. Institute of Peace study earlier this year on the Afghan security forces and the need for a game-changing strategy in Afghanistan. She estimates that more than 25% of officers on the police force are "ghost police"—people who don't show up but who are still on the payroll. There are other problems that won't be as easy to fix, the article said. One is retention. Soldiers who return to their villages after one fighting season often never return. And while dropout and absentee rates reported by U.S. and Afghan officials are somewhere around 205, the actual number is very likely much higher, analysts say.

Japan Ponders Improved Relations with China, South Korea

Dec. 25 (EIRNS)—In light of the growing evidence that Russia, China, and India are becoming increasingly cooperative in utilizing their strengths to stabilize the Eurasian land-mass through economic development, the three-year project undertaken by Japanese and Chinese scholars to review history from medieval to modern times, is a step forward by Tokyo to improve its bilateral relations with both Beijing and Seoul.

One of the sticking points that has blocked stronger cooperation between Japan and China, and Japan and South Korea, has been the role of the Japanese Imperial Military in the 1930s. Japanese and Chinese historians have clashed over the details of the 1937 Nanjing massacre committed by the Japanese Army. However, a fresh air is blowing. At a joint conference on Dec. 24 with Chinese historians, Shinichi Kitaoka, a Tokyo University professor, said: "The Japanese side acknowledged the fact that there was the massacre, and that the basic responsibility was on Japan."

Similarly, the dispute over the ownership of the island of Dokdo/Takeshima, which has clouded relations between Tokyo and Seoul, has taken a turn. Japan's history textbooks have previously asserted Japan's claim to the island. However, the textbook for high school teachers published on Dec. 25 says: "The Japanese Government has removed South Korea's easternmost islets of Dokdo from its description of territorial sovereignty claims.... The territorial issues should be dealt with on the basis of reasoned argument rightfully advanced by the [Japanese] government."

Hun Sen: Thai Government Is Plotting Coup in Cambodia

Dec. 25 (EIRNS)—Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has accused the neighboring Thai government of preparing a coup against his government. Hun Sen was quoted by Agence France Presse during a speech at a provincial ceremony on Dec. 24, claiming that he has seen a secret Thai government document outlining the plan. Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva rejected the accusation.

Thailand, which is in the midst of a political upheaval, continues to remain under control of a king who retains close ties to Buckingham Palace. There exists a historical bond between the British and Thai monarchies.

A coup plot, orchestrated by Thailand in collusion the British monarchy, could well have been triggered by the growing relationship between China and Cambodia.

On Dec. 20, Chinese Vice Premier Xi Jinping, unofficially the successor to Hu Jintao as President of China, visiting Cambodia, met with Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister, and voiced China's willingness to push for a higher-level relations. Describing the ties as an example for friendly cooperation, Xi said the Chinese side is willing to enhance cooperation with Cambodia in various fields, and to push bilateral relations to a higher level, so as to bring more benefits to the two peoples. Xi noted that Siemp Reap Province has become a sister province with Yunnan, southwest China.

Premier Wen Jiabao's official visit to Cambodia April 7-8 symbolized the tightening relationship between Cambodia and the P.R.C. Beijing stepped up aid to Cambodia through 11 bilateral agreements including combatting transnational crime, health cooperation, Internet services, protecting the Angkor Wat temples, and establishing a national botanical garden. In addition, the two sides agreed to enhance economic, political, and military interaction through a Comprehensive Partnership of Cooperation. Most importantly, Wen pledged $600 million in loans and grants. At the conclusion of his visit, the Cambodian Prime Minister described China as Cambodia's most trustworthy friend.

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