U.S. President Barack Obama has deployed 100 U.S. troops to Central Africa to help forces that are fighting the Lord’s Resistance Army group – known for its campaign of rape and killing in the region, and its use of child soldiers.
The president, in a letter to Congress, said he has authorized the deployment of a small force of combat-ready U.S. troops.
Defense department officials say the first of about 100 troops arrived in Uganda this week. The rest will follow in the coming weeks, moving into areas of South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo where the group operates. A department official says U.S. troops will remain as long as needed, perhaps several months.
In his letter, President Obama said that although the troops will be combat-ready, they will only be providing information, advice, and assistance to regional forces fighting for the removal of Joseph Kony, who is the head of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Obama said the U.S. troops will not engage the L.R.A. directly, except in self-defense.
Center for Strategic and International Studies Africa researcher Richard Downie explained why Kony is of concern to the United States.
“Joseph Kony and his followers have committed egregious human-rights abuses in a large swathe of Africa for many, many years now.
Really, I think the U.S. feels it has to act to tackle the L.R.A. because of the abuses it has committed. It does not pose a national security threat to the United States as such, but it feels impelled to act in this situation,” he said.
The deployment is in line with President Obama’s public commitment to promote governance and human rights in Africa. The troops will primarily assist the Ugandan army, which has taken the lead in fighting the L.R.A.
Downie says Uganda and other nations in the region have been unable to eradicate the group on their own and are eager for U.S. help.
“Intelligence suggests that it is operating in perhaps two or three small groups in very remote areas, one of them in the far northeast of the
Congo, another in the Central African Republic, and perhaps another one also in South Sudan. So this really explains why it is so difficult to eliminate this group because they are operating in a remote region, in very, very small groups,” said Downie.
The Pentagon is not saying what types of units are being deployed. Officials say soldiers will work to safeguard civilians.
The U.S. launched a similar support operation to try to combat the L.R.A. in 2008. That mission failed to capture Kony and other commanders. The operation came under criticism by human-rights advocates, who said the effort resulted in a campaign of revenge by L.R.A. fighters who killed hundreds of civilians in the months that followed.