Allegations of United States support for the Khmer Rouge

There are allegations that the United States (U.S.) directly armed the Khmer Rouge during the Cambodian–Vietnamese War in order to weaken the influence of Vietnam and the Soviet Union in Southeast Asia. It is not disputed that the United States encouraged the government of China to provide military training and support for the Khmer Rouge and that the United States voted for the Khmer Rouge to remain the official representative of the country in the United Nations even after 1979, when the Khmer Rouge was mostly deposed by Vietnam and ruled just a small part of the country.[1][2][3]

Additional alleged U.S. actions that benefited the Khmer Rouge range from tolerating Chinese and Thai aid to the organization (Henry Kissinger) to, according to Michael Haas, directly arming the Khmer Rouge. The U.S. government officially denies these claims, and Nate Thayer defended U.S. policy, arguing that little, if any, American aid actually reached the Khmer Rouge. However, it is not disputed that the U.S. voted for the Khmer Rouge, and later, for the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK), which was dominated by the Khmer Rouge, to retain Cambodia's United Nations (UN) seat until 1982 and 1991, respectively.[4][5][6]


Khmer Rouge in powerEdit

The Khmer Rouge, the communist party led by Pol Pot that ruled Cambodia after its 1975 victory in the Cambodian Civil War, perpetrated the Cambodian genocide, which between 1975 and 1979 killed between 1.5 and 2 million people, nearly 25% of Cambodia's population.[7] During the genocide, China was the main international patron of the Khmer Rouge, supplying "more than 15,000 military advisers" and most of its external aid.[8]

Vietnamese invasionEdit

Vietnam invaded Cambodia in late 1978 and established the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) led by Khmer Rouge defectors.[9][10] Vietnam's invasion was motivated by repeated cross-border attacks by the Khmer Rouge that targeted Vietnamese civilians, including the Ba Chúc massacre—in which the Khmer Rouge systematically killed the entire population of a Vietnamese village of over 3,000 people, with the exception of one woman who survived being shot in the neck and clubbed, causing her to suffer painful headaches for the rest of her life; before being killed, many of the victims were "barbarously tortured."[11] These attacks killed over 30,000 Vietnamese in total.[12]

Vietnam ousted the Khmer Rouge and ended the genocide in a mere 17 days, however, Vietnamese troops occupied Cambodia for the next eleven years.[10] Following the invasion, Vietnam attempted to publicize the crimes of the Khmer Rouge, establishing an ossuary for the victims at Ba Chúc and convincing the PRK to do the same for the Khmer Rouge's Cambodian victims; the Khmer Rouge's most notorious prison, S-21—which held 20,000 prisoners, "all but seven" of whom were killed—was revealed in May 1979 and eventually turned into the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, although there were well over 150 Khmer Rouge death camps "on the same model, at least one per district."[11][13][14]

To punish Vietnam for overthrowing the Khmer Rouge, China invaded Vietnam in February 1979, while the United States (U.S.) "merely slapped more sanctions on Vietnam" and "blocked loans from the International Monetary Fund [(IMF)] to Vietnam."[15][16]

China trained Khmer Rouge soldiers on its soil during 1979—1986 (if not later), "stationed military advisers with Khmer Rouge troops as late as 1990,"[4] and "supplied at least $1 billion in military aid" during the 1980s.[17] After the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, Thailand continued to allow the Khmer Rouge "to trade and move across the Thai border to sustain their activities ... although international criticism, particularly from the U.S. and Australia ... caused it to disavow passing any direct military support."[18]

Cambodia's UN seatEdit

As a result of Chinese and Western opposition to the Vietnamese invasion and occupation, the Khmer Rouge, rather than the PRK, was allowed to hold Cambodia's United Nations (UN) seat until 1982. After 1982, the UN seat was filled by a Khmer Rouge-dominated coalition—the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK).[4][5] Owing to Chinese, U.S., and Western support, the Khmer Rouge-dominated CGDK held Cambodia's UN seat until 1993, long after the Cold War had ended.[19]

Undisputed US supportEdit

The U.S. permitted Thailand to allow the Khmer Rouge to use bases in Thailand to wage a war of insurrection against the government in Phnom Penh that had been installed by Vietnam.[20] Elizabeth Becker reported that U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski claimed that he "concocted the idea of persuading Thailand to cooperate fully with China to in efforts to rebuild the Khmer Rouge."[21][22]

The U.S. provided millions of dollars of annual food aid to 20,000-40,000 Khmer Rouge insurgents in Khmer Rouge bases in Thailand. The aid was managed by an organization that the U.S. established in the U.S. embassy in Bangkok called the Kampuchean Emergency Group (KEG) staffed by U.S. Central Intelligence Agency personnel and headed by Michael Eiland, whose job entailed interpreting satellite surveillance photos of Cambodia, and who had been operations officer of a U.S. commando reconnaissance unit code-named “Daniel Boone" and later was appointed U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency chief in charge of the Southeast Asia Region.[23]

United States National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski acknowledged that "I encourage[d] the Chinese to support [Khmer Rouge leader] Pol Pot ... we could never support him, but China could." However, Brzezinski subsequently stated: "The Chinese were aiding Pol Pot, but without any help or arrangement from the United States. Moreover, we told the Chinese explicitly that in our view Pol Pot was an abomination and that the United States would have nothing to do with him—directly or indirectly."[24][25][26]

Ray Cline, a former deputy director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency visited a Khmer Rouge camp inside Cambodia in November 1980 as a representative of the incoming administration of U.S President Ronald Reagan. The Thai Foreign Ministry denied that Cline had illegally crossed into Cambodia, but privately acknowledged that Cline had visited the Pol Pot camp. Khmer Rouge diplomatic representatives to the United Nations had publicly announced the Cline trip to the Pol Pot camp in Cambodia. [27]

In late 1975, former National Security Advisor and United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told the Thai foreign minister: "You should tell the Cambodians that we will be friends with them. They are murderous thugs but we won't let that stand in our way."[28] Years later, Kissinger elaborated: "The Thais and the Chinese did not want a Vietnamese-dominated Indochina. We didn't want the Vietnamese to dominate. I don't believe we did anything for Pol Pot. But I suspect we closed our eyes when some others did something for Pol Pot."[29]

Singaporean diplomat Bilahari Kausikan, recalled: "ASEAN wanted elections but the U.S. supported the return of a genocidal regime. Did any of you imagine that the U.S. once had in effect supported genocide?" In fact, Kausikan described the disagreement between the U.S. and ASEAN over the Khmer Rouge as reaching the threshold that the U.S. even threatened Singapore with "blood on the floor".[30]

Cambodian leader Norodom Sihanouk, when asked about charges of opportunism in May 1987 ("your critics would say ... that you would sleep with the Devil to achieve your end"), replied: "As far as devils are concerned, the U.S.A. also supports the Khmer Rouge. Even before the forming of the Coalition Government in 1982, the U.S. each year voted in favor of the Khmer Rouge regime. ... The U.S.A. says that it is against the Khmer Rouge, that it is pro-Sihanouk, pro-Son Sann. But the devils, they are there [laughs] with Sihanouk and Son Sann."[31]

Allegations of U.S. military supportEdit

U.S. support for the Khmer Rouge guerrillas in the 1980s was "pivotal" to keeping the organization alive, and was in part motivated by revenge over Vietnam's defeat of the U.S. during the Vietnam War, according to Tom Fawthrop.[32] A WikiLeaks dump of 500,000 U.S. diplomatic cables from 1978 document shows that the administration of President Jimmy Carter was torn between revulsion at the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge and concern with the possibility of growing Vietnamese influence should the Khmer Rouge collapse.[33]

Prince Norodom Sihanouk, leader of a resistance group allied with the Khmer Rouge in the war against the Phnom Penh government, acknowledged that CIA advisers were present in Khmer Rouge camps in late 1989: “Just one month ago, I received intelligence informing me that there were U.S. advisers in the Khmer Rouge camps in Thailand, notably in Site B camp...." [34]

According to Michael Haas, despite publicly condemning the Khmer Rouge, the U.S. offered military support to the organization and was instrumental in preventing UN recognition of the Vietnam-aligned government.[35] Haas argued that the U.S. and China responded to efforts from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) for disarming the Khmer Rouge by ensuring the Khmer Rouge stayed armed, and that U.S. efforts for merging the Khmer Rouge with allied factions resulted in the formation of the CGDK. After 1982, the U.S. increased its annual covert aid to the Cambodian resistance from $4 million to $10 million.[36]

By contrast, Nate Thayer recounted that "The United States has scrupulously avoided any direct involvement in aiding the Khmer Rouge", instead providing non-lethal aid to non-communist Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF) and Armee Nationale Sihanouk (ANS) insurgents, which rarely cooperated with the Khmer Rouge on the battlefield, despite being coalition partners, and which fought with the Khmer Rouge dozens of times prior to 1987. According to Thayer, "In months spent in areas controlled by the three resistance groups and during scores of encounters with the Khmer Rouge ... I never once encountered aid given to the [non-communist resistance] in use by or in possession of the Khmer Rouge."[37]

Leakage of US arms to Khmer RougeEdit

Joel Brinkley stated that, although U.S. policy was to provide support to "15,000 ineffective 'noncommunist' rebel fighters", "charges made the rounds that some of the American aid, $215 million so far, was finding its way to the Khmer Rouge." A subsequent investigation led by Thomas Fingar of the United States Department of State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) "found some leakage—including sharing of ammunition, joint defense of a bridge, and using one truck to transport both 'noncommunist' and Khmer Rouge fighters to a fight." Fingar was dismissive of his own investigators's report, which he characterized as an "epiphenomenon in a flea circus": "Isn't the larger objective here defeating the Vietnamese puppets in Phnom Penh?"[38]

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Becker, Elizabeth (1998-04-17). "Death of Pol Pot: The Diplomacy; Pol Pot's End Won't Stop U.S. Pursuit of His Circle". The New York Times. cf. Lewis, Daniel (2017-05-26). "Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, Dies at 89". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Brzezinski, Zbigniew (1998-04-22). "Pol Pot's Evil Had Many Faces; China Acted Alone". The New York Times.
  3. ^ Hodgson, Godfrey (2017-05-28). "Zbigniew Brzezinski obituary". The Guardian.
  4. ^ a b c PoKempner 1995, p. 106.
  5. ^ a b SarDesai 1998, p. 163.
  6. ^ Beachler, Donald (2016-09-05). "How the West Missed the Horrors of Cambodia". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 2017-07-16.
  7. ^ Locard 2005, p. 121.
  8. ^ Kurlantzick 2008, p. 193.
  9. ^ Brinkley 2011, p. 56.
  10. ^ a b SarDesai 1998, pp. 161163.
  11. ^ a b Pringle, James (2004-01-07). "MEANWHILE: When the Khmer Rouge came to kill in Vietnam". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-07-21.
  12. ^ Haas 1991, p. 13.
  13. ^ Locard 2005, p. 134.
  14. ^ Kiernan 2014, pp. 464465.
  15. ^ SarDesai 1998, pp. 162163.
  16. ^ Brinkley 2011, pp. 5152.
  17. ^ Brinkley 2011, pp. 6465.
  18. ^ PoKempner 1995, pp. 107108.
  19. ^ "Cambodia: U.S. bombing, civil war, & Khmer Rouge". World Peace Foundation. 2015-08-07. Retrieved 2019-08-05.
  20. ^ CovertAction Quarterly, "On the Side of Pol Pot: U.S. Supports Khmer Rouge," Issue 34, Summer 1990, p. 37, archived at [1]
  21. ^ CovertAction Quarterly, "On the Side of Pol Pot: U.S. Supports Khmer Rouge," Issue 34, Summer 1990, p. 37, archived at [2]
  22. ^ Covert Action Quarterly, Fall 1997, Issue 62, p. 5-6, archived at "The Long Secret Alliance: Uncle Sam and Pol Pot"
  23. ^ Covert Action Quarterly, Fall 1997, Issue 62, p. 6, archived at "The Long Secret Alliance: Uncle Sam and Pol Pot"
  24. ^ Becker, Elizabeth (1998-04-17). "Death of Pol Pot: The Diplomacy; Pol Pot's End Won't Stop U.S. Pursuit of His Circle". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-07-12. cf. Lewis, Daniel (2017-05-26). "Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, Dies at 89". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  25. ^ Brzezinski, Zbigniew (1998-04-22). "Pol Pot's Evil Had Many Faces; China Acted Alone". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  26. ^ Hodgson, Godfrey (2017-05-28). "Zbigniew Brzezinski obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  27. ^ CovertAction Quarterly, "On the Side of Pol Pot: U.S. Supports Khmer Rouge," Issue 34, Summer 1990, p. 38, archived at [3]
  28. ^ Stone, Oliver and Kuznick, Peter, "The Untold History of the United States" (New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2012), p. 389 citing Ben Kiernan, "The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power and Genocide under the Khmer Rouge (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), xi, note 3
  29. ^ "Henry Kissinger on Pol Pot". Charlie Rose YouTube Channel. 2007-08-27. Retrieved 2017-07-16. Event occurs from 12:12 to 12:35.
  30. ^ "S China Sea 'an existential issue to legitimise CCP rule'". Today. Singapore. March 31, 2016. Retrieved July 19, 2017.
  31. ^ Weiner, Debra (May 1987). "Playboy Interview: Prince Norodom Sihanouk". Playboy. 34 (5): 61–62, 74.
  32. ^ Fawthrop 2004, p. 109.
  33. ^ Parkinson, Charles; Cuddy, Alice; Pye, Daniel (May 29, 2015). "The Pol Pot dilemma". The Phnom Penh Post. Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Retrieved August 29, 2016.
  34. ^ CovertAction Quarterly, "On the Side of Pol Pot: U.S. Supports Khmer Rouge," Issue 34, Summer 1990, p. 38, archived at [4]
  35. ^ Haas 1991, pp. 17, 28–29.
  36. ^ Haas 1991, p. 18.
  37. ^ Thayer 1991, pp. 180, 187–189.
  38. ^ Brinkley 2011, pp. 58, 65.