WASHINGTON (AP) The United States is venturing into one of Africa's
bloodiest conflicts, sending about 100 U.S. troops to central Africa to
support a years-long fight against a guerrilla group accused of horrific
The Obama administration said the troops will advise, not engage in combat,
unless forced to defend themselves.
In a letter to Congress, President Barack Obama said Friday that the troops
will assist local forces in a long-running battle against the Lord's
Resistance Army, considered one of Africa's most ruthless rebel groups, and
help to hunt down its notorious leader, Joseph Kony.
The first of the troops arrived in Uganda on Wednesday, the White House
said, and others will be sent to South Sudan, the Central African Republic
and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
While the size of the U.S. footprint is small, Obama's announcement
represents a highly unusual intervention for the United States. Although
some American troops are based in Djibouti and small groups of soldiers have
been deployed to Somalia, the U.S. traditionally has been reluctant to
commit forces to help African nations put down insurgencies.
It demonstrates the Obama administration's escalating attention to and fears
about security risks in Africa, including terror networks, piracy and
unstable nations. The move was intended to show some engagement to lessen
the impact of one of the worst protracted wars in Africa.
Obama declared his decision to send troops as in keeping with the national
security interests of the United States. The White House announced it in a
low-key fashion, releasing the Obama notification and justification of the
troop deployment that the president sent to congressional leaders.
Pentagon officials said the bulk of the deployment will be of special
operations troops, who will provide security and combat training to African
units. The move raises the profile of U.S. involvement on the continent and
represents an apparent victory for administration officials who have argued
for more robust intervention in humanitarian crises.
The change in policy could reflect the long-standing concerns of a number of
high-ranking Obama advisers left scarred by the U.S. failure in the 1990s to
intervene to stop the genocide in Rwanda and the belated action to finally
halt the violence in Bosnia. For a current parallel, the Lord's Resistance
Army's 24-year campaign of rebellion, rape and murder represents one of the
world's worst human rights crises today.
Coming off the administration's successful, if limited, intervention in
Libya, the Uganda deployment represents a continued effort by Obama to use
military force for humanitarian protection in areas where atrocities are
occurring. Sending 100 troops may not be significant in terms of military
numbers, but the composition of the force gives the United States a new
counterterrorism foothold in a region of the world with terrorist networks,
pirates and unstable nations.
A special forces unit can be highly effective beyond what the number of
soldiers might suggest. They are highly skilled in disrupting insurgency
networks by discovering where rebels are based and how they procure guns,
money and other logistical support.
The Lord's Resistance Army has been pushing westward since it began its
attacks years go, and the administration and human rights groups say its
atrocities have left thousands dead and have put as many as 300,000 Africans
to flight. They have charged the group with seizing children to bolster its
ranks of soldiers and sometimes forcing them to become sex slaves.
Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court under a 2005 warrant for
crimes against humanity in his native Uganda. A self-styled prophet, who
mixes Christian mysticism with politics, he is believed hiding along the
Most of the troops will deploy to regional capitals to work with government
officials and military commanders on countering the rebels and protecting
civilians, Pentagon officials said.
In recent months, the administration has stepped up its support for Uganda,
which has played a key role in battling extremists in Somalia.
In June, the Pentagon moved to send nearly $45 million in military equipment
to Uganda and Burundi. The aid included four small drones, body armor and
night-vision and communications gear and is being used in the fight against
al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked group that U.S. officials see as an increasing
threat and that African peace-keeping troops in Somalia have been battling
At the State Department, officials portrayed the new troop deployment as
part of a larger anti-LRA strategy that dates to the Bush administration but
also includes legislation passed by Congress this year.
Col. Felix Kulayigye, Uganda's military spokesman, said of the troops: "We
are aware that they are coming. We are happy about it. We look forward to
working with them and eliminating Kony and his fighters."
Associated Press writers Ben Feller, Matthew Lee, Lolita C. Baldor, Erica
Werner and Donna Cassata in Washington and Godfrey Olukya in Kampala,
Uganda, contributed to this report.
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Received on Sun Oct 16 2011 - 06:11:06 EDT