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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Experts doubt RCAF's ability

Experts doubt RCAF's ability

A growing number of military commanders have lost confidence in the government's

ability to ever capture Pailin, and are privately urging that future offensives against

the guerrillas be abandoned, according to western military observers.

"Many of the top brass now believe there is no military solution, that offensive

action against the Khmer Rouge at Pailin is no longer worth the sacrifice,"

said one well-placed source who spoke to the Post on condition of anonymity.

"They really tried hard this year," the source said, "but they just

don't have the military wherewithal to do the job and they suffered very high casualties."

Several independent estimates put the number of casualties suffered by the RCAF since

the offensive began in January at approximately 2,000, including 500 dead.

Confidential government figures obtained by the Post put RCAF casualties from February

15 to mid-March at 110 dead and 486 injured.

From March 15 to April 20, 190 RCAF troops were killed, according to government figures.

However, it remains unclear whether the figures include casualties suffered by so-called

"fighting police" units.

Approximately 80 percent of injuries were caused by land mines, about 15 percent

by shrapnel, and the remainder as a result of gunshot wounds.

The government claims to have lost one tank with two other damaged in the fighting,

but western observers say the military may have lost as many as ten tanks as a result

of a strategy which used armor to clear paths through minefields.

"There is no the political will or budget for another major offensive this year,"

said one military analyst. "RCAF was told this was their last chance, that the

government had other pressing priorities and is under international pressure to reduce

military spending.

"Several CPP and Funcinpec commanders believe it would be better to leave the

KR where they are, to get on with developing the [rest of the] country and not sacrifice

any more lives."

The doubts of senior RCAF officers follow a decision to suspend offensive operations

against the Khmer Rouge just prior to the monsoon season during which heavy rains

make roads in much of the country impassable.

Military leaders have instead opted to establish and hold a forward base at Sour

Sdie approximately 10 kilometers west of Pailin on Route 10.

Defense Minister, Tea Chamrath, said, however, government forces would keep up the

pressure against the KR defending Pailin and reacted angrily to the suggestion that

some of his senior commanders had lost their will to fight.

"We can see Pailin," he said, "we have captured a lot of territory

from the Khmer Rouge and we will keep fighting until the government tells us to stop."

He said he was unsure when Pailin would be captured but government forces would continue

to "study" the situation.

But foreign military observers agree it is unlikely the government will maintain

their forward positions during the wet season.

They said troop morale would deteriorate further as the rains set in and that groups

of KR moving on foot were likely to continue to launch attacks against government

positions.

One added the KR still control much of the high ground surrounding the approaches

to Pailin from which they could harass Sour Sdie with artillery fire.

"I'm personally skeptical that they can stay there through the wet season,"

he said.

"Look what happened at [the forward base of] Treng last year - the KR rolled

it one sunny Saturday afternoon... it will not last."

Another western military source contacted by the Post said the government had adopted

the same strategy it used against Pailin in 1994 when RCAF captured and briefly held

the town.

He said government soldiers had fought well but faced a particularly difficult task

in taking Pailin with the resources available to them. He added that RCAF's logistics

and casualty evacuation had improved but they faced a highly motivated enemy in very

difficult terrain.

"RCAF is pretty good at what it does - they've been doing it for a long time,

so it's not really incompetence. But they've... been constrained by high casualties,

a lack of artillery ammunition and no effective air support."

Another military observer agreed but added RCAF's command structure was inadequate.

"They [government forces] are dealing with "hard core" KR soldiers

who continuously harass them with flanking actions, ambush and tactics like poisoning

water supplies. The psychological effect on poorly motivated troops is very damaging.

"There is very few experienced non-commissioned officers... the training and

organization of troops at the section, platoon and company level is inadequate to

keep the required level of discipline."

However, he played down suggestions that animosity between Funcinpec and CPP units

had reduced RCAF's effectiveness.

"We should remember that RCAF is an amalgam of three different armies and integration

didn't begin until 1993. Three years is just not enough time to create a well coordinated,

disciplined fighting force."

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