* Mission marks expanded role in sub-Saharan conflicts
* McCain chides Obama for not consulting Congress first (Adds Pentagon
spokesman, paragraph 9)
By Matt Spetalnick and Laura MacInnis
WASHINGTON, Oct 15 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Friday he was
sending about 100 U.S. troops to central Africa to help and advise
government forces battling Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army rebels accused of
murder, rape and kidnapping children.
Obama -- who once denounced the LRA as an "affront to human dignity" -- made
clear the troops would serve as trainers and advisers in efforts to hunt
down rebel leader Joseph Kony and would not engage in combat except in
In a letter to Congress, Obama said the first U.S. forces arrived in Uganda
on Wednesday and would be deployed to South Sudan, the Central African
Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo "subject to the approval
of each respective host nation."
Obama's decision commits U.S. forces to help confront a rebel group that has
drawn international condemnation for decades of chilling violence, including
hacking body parts off victims and the abduction of young boys to fight and
young girls for use as sex slaves.
While the U.S. military has maintained a large base in Djibouti since 2003,
the latest mission marks an expanded role in conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa
by putting U.S. troops in the field to support local forces in direct combat
"I have authorized a small number of combat-equipped U.S. forces to deploy
to central Africa to provide assistance to regional forces that are working
toward the removal of Joseph Kony from the battlefield," Obama said.
A senior administration official said the mission was "time-limited" to last
only months. The bulk of roughly 100 troops being dispatched were special
forces, a U.S. defense official said.
The limited terms of engagement appeared aimed at reassuring war-weary
Americans that Obama has no plan to entangle U.S. forces directly in another
conflict when they are already involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and
are playing a support role in a NATO-led air campaign in Libya.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said U.S. troops would train local forces
in activities such as tracking, intelligence assessment and conducting
patrols "to render the LRA ineffective." The trainers "will be armed for
self-defense," Little said.
Senator John McCain, Obama's Republican opponent in the 2008 presidential
election, said promoting African stability by reducing the LRA threat was a
"worthy goal" but Obama should have consulted Congress before putting forces
"into harm's way."
The State Department said the troops were dispatched "with the consent" of
Uganda's government, headed by President Yoweri Museveni. His critics have
accused him of using the fight against rebels as an excuse to stifle
"We didn't solicit for this support but now that it has come we welcome it,"
Felix Kulaigye, spokesman for the Ugandan army, told Reuters by telephone.
"Kony is a regional security menace and the earlier we end it, the better."
KONY INDICTED ON WAR CRIME CHARGES
Obama asserted that U.S. forces "will only be providing information, advice
and assistance to partner nation forces, and they will not themselves engage
LRA forces unless necessary for self-defense."
The LRA, which says it is a religious group, emerged in northern Uganda in
the 1990s and is believed to have killed, kidnapped and mutilated tens of
thousands of people.
Kony has been indicted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court on
charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
"The LRA continues to commit atrocities across the Central African Republic,
the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan that have a
disproportionate impact on regional security," Obama said.
He said U.S. advisers were needed because "regional military efforts have
thus far been unsuccessful in removing LRA leader Joseph Kony or his top
commanders from the battlefield."
LRA commanders have been operating in the wild and largely lawless border
regions of the DRC, Central African Republic and Sudan in recent years.
Although now thought to number just a few hundred fighters, the LRA's
mobility and the difficulties of the terrain have made it difficult to
tackle. Attempts to negotiate peace failed in 2008 after Kony refused to
sign a deal to end the killing.
Uganda and Congolese officials said earlier this year they thought Kony had
returned to eastern DRC, complicating U.N. efforts to stabilize the region.
The U.S. military has operated a joint task force from Camp Lemonnier near
the international airport in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa since 2003, its
only base on the African continent. Camp Lemonnier supports about 2,500 U.S.
military personnel, allied forces and defense contractors.
The base, overseen by the recently created U.S. Africa Command, based in
Stuttgart, Germany, is engaged in "stability operations" against Islamist
militants and reportedly is being used as a base for flights of unmanned
surveillance and strike aircraft over Somalia and Yemen.
The United States has military personnel deployed in 34 sub-Saharan African
countries, mostly small contingents of less than 40 personnel attached to
the U.S. embassies. (Additional reporting by David Alexander in Washington
and Elias Biryabarema in Kampala; Editing by Peter Cooney and Paul Simao)
C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved
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Received on Sat Oct 15 2011 - 06:51:08 EDT