The navies of the United States and Cambodia kicked off annual military exercises for the sixth year running at the Ream Naval Base in Sihanoukville yesterday, while a US official denied ongoing political tensions in the Kingdom would affect the exercises’ status.
The Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training exercises, known as CARAT, are naval exercises conducted between the US Pacific Fleet and eight Southeast Asian nations, with Cambodia one of the latest to join in 2010.
About 300 sailors from Cambodia and 200 from the US will participate in CARAT this year, which is slated to run until Friday and will involve a variety of activities ranging from search-and-rescue training to gunnery drills, according to a statement.
This year’s CARAT exercise in Cambodia will be the first to include the use of US littoral combat ships (LCS), a new class of ships that mix stealth, speed and firepower, which will train with Soviet-era Cambodian patrol boats.
“This year, [LCS] USS Fort Worth will participate in CARAT Cambodia for the first time, presenting a unique opportunity for us to train hull-to-hull with the Royal Cambodian Navy on one of the navy’s newest and most agile ships,” Captain H.B. Le, commodore in Destroyer Squadron 7, said in a statement.
New weaponry aside, the drills are being conducted at a time of political troubles in Cambodia, with the US Embassy warning yesterday of protests should an arrest warrant for opposition leader Sam Rainsy be acted upon.
However, US Embassy spokesperson Jay Raman said the exercises were focused on supporting the “professionalisation of the Cambodian military” and strengthening maritime security, saying concerns about the US military supporting Cambodia during a crackdown on the opposition were unwarranted.
“The timing of the exercises was planned well in advance . . . so it’s going forward,” Raman said.
Political analyst Chea Vannath said such exercises were part of furthering US interests, especially by countering China’s growing naval power in the region.
She said that US military support for Cambodia would likely continue into the future, despite political tensions.
“Unless we have a coup d’etat, the [cooperation] will continue,” she said.
“They only time [the US] did that was in 1997, when there was a coup. At that time, [the US] cut any aid related to the Cambodian government.”