Obama sends troops to help fight LRA
Washington - US President Barack Obama said on
Friday he is sending 100 combat troops to central Africa to help and advise
forces battling the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army rebels accused of gross
human rights abuses.
"These forces will act as advisers to
partner forces that have the goal of removing from the battlefield Joseph Kony
and other senior leadership of the LRA," Obama said, but warned they would
not lead the fighting themselves.
The mostly special operations forces could
deploy in Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Democratic
Republic of the Congo, subject to approval of regional governments, Obama said
in a message to Congress.
LRA rebels are accused of terrorising,
murdering, raping and kidnapping thousands of people in the four nations, and
tens of thousands of people died in their 20-year war with security forces in
"Although the US forces are
combat-equipped, they will only be providing information, advice and assistance
to partner nation forces," the president said.
"They will not themselves engage LRA
forces unless necessary for self-defence. All appropriate precautions have been
taken to ensure the safety of US military personnel during their
A small group of troops deployed to Uganda on
Wednesday and additional forces will deploy over the next month.
Pentagon officials said the troops would
travel to regional capitals to work with government officials, military
officers and peacekeeping missions.
"There is a clear end state - to enable
local forces to render the LRA ineffective," Pentagon spokesperson George
Little said, adding that US forces would offer training in tasks like tracking,
intelligence assessment and conducting patrols.
He said that the required US forces to
fulfill the long-standing request had not been available until now.
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland
said Washington has provided more than $40 million in logistical support,
equipment and training to counter-LRA operations by armies in the region since
Heading a movement based on a mix of religion
and brutality, Kony a self-styled mystic and religious prophet, claims to be
fighting on divine orders to establish theocratic rule based on the Bible's 10
The civil war effectively ended in 2006 when
a peace process was launched, but Kony and his top lieutenants, commanding
forces including child soldiers, continue to commit atrocities.
General Carter Ham, head of US Africa
Command, said last week his best estimate was that Kony was probably in the
Central African Republic.
Helping central African nations in hunting
down the LRA leadership was a "worthy goal" given the
"unspeakable atrocities" committed against civilians, women and
children, Republican Senator John McCain said.
But he recalled that previous humanitarian
deployments in Lebanon and Somalia had resulted in tragic US losses and called
on Obama to consult Congress about deployments, a step he said was not taken
regarding the African mission.
Eliminate threat to civilians
Richard Downie, deputy director of the Africa
Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the
operation to hunt down LRA leaders would be "an incredibly difficult and
"They are experienced fighters divided
into small groups and spread across an incredibly wide, ungoverned part of the
world," he said.
Obama said in his message that the LRA had
"murdered, raped, and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women, and
children in central Africa."
In 2009, Congress enacted a law expressing
support for increased US efforts to mitigate and eliminate the threat posed to
civilians by the LRA.
And a year ago, Obama unveiled a plan to
disarm the LRA and increase humanitarian access to affected communities.
Human rights and anti-genocide groups
welcomed Obama's decision.
"President Obama is showing decisive
leadership to help regional governments finally bring an end to the LRA's mass
atrocities," said Paul Ronan, director of advocacy at Resolve.
John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough
Project, said the US troops could play a catalytic role if they were used as
part of a wider multinational strategy.
"Missing elements include more capable
forces dedicated to the apprehension of Joseph Kony and protection of civilians,
and an intelligence and logistics surge from the US to help those forces
succeed," he said.