NAIROBI, KENYA — The United States is deploying additional military personnel and aircraft to Uganda to support operations to track down the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group. catching the group's elusive leader, Joseph Kony, may still prove a challenge.
As first reported by The Washington Post, U.S. officials say the military is sending 150 special forces personnel and four Osprey tiltrotor aircraft to assist African forces in operations against the LRA.
The new deployment, expected this week, adds to an existing contingent of U.S. special forces based in Uganda, working alongside African militaries from the region.
Ugandan military spokesman Paddy Ankunda said the new aircraft will help African forces more quickly dispatch soldiers to the remote areas where the LRA is believed to be hiding.
“One of our greatest difficulties, one of our greatest problems has been airlifts, our ability to airlift personnel and materiel has been limited, but now with this deployment its going to be solved,” said Ankunda.
The LRA, infamous for forced recruitment of child soldiers and a cult-like Christian-influenced ideology, has declined in recent years to an estimated 250 fighters, who travel in bands across central Africa.
The group's leader, Joseph Kony, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes including murder and sexual enslavement. He is thought to be hiding out in the Central African Republic.
Kasper Agger, a field researcher with the Enough Project - which monitors conflict in the region - said instability in the C.A.R., following a coup last year, has created ideal conditions for the group to thrive.
“This is the dream scenario for Kony and the LRA. As long as there's instability and conflict in the areas where they are, then it provides a smokescreen for them to continue to hide,” said Agger.
Some groups of LRA fighters also reportedly operate in the Democratic Republic of Congo and have been previously active in South Sudan.
U.S. forces first deployed to the region in 2011 as military advisers, armed only for self-defense.
Since then, several of Kony's top commanders have been captured or have defected.
Agger said the new deployment could be a “game-changer” in terms of catching Kony, but cautioned against being overly optimistic.
“This guy is a survivor and he's been able to stay alive for all these years, and you can put yourself in a position where you increase your odds to get Kony, but you also need a lot of luck for it to happen,” said Agger.
The U.S. military has made the counter-LRA operations a major focus of its Africa Command. Congress approved $37.5 million for the effort in this year's defense budget.