U.S. troops have been deploying in central Africa to help the forces of Uganda and other nations fight the Lord’s Resistance Army [L.R.A.]. The deployment is the largest U.S. attempt yet to eradicate the group known for its ruthless campaign of killing, rape, and its use of child soldiers over the past two decades.
U.S. troops are landing in Uganda and from there may deploy to the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and southern Sudan - areas were the L.R.A. - a scattered force whose numbers are estimated to be around 400 - are operating.
The U.S. troops are combat-ready and have instructions to fight if attacked, but Pentagon spokesman Captain John Kirby said the U.S. troops’ mission is limited to helping Ugandan soldiers and the armies of other nations stamp out the L.R.A.
“The mission for these 100 or so special operations forces is really just advise and assist, and help train local forces to deal with that threat. That is the scope of what they’ are going to be doing. That is the limit to what they are going to be doing,” said Kirby.
The deployment culminates years of efforts by human-rights groups and others to raise awareness in the halls of the U.S. Congress and at the White House of the need for Washington to step in and tackle one of the most violent and vicious militia groups, and its leader Joseph Kony.
Jennifer Cooke, who directs the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies research group, said, “The U.S. Congress has passed in 2009 legislation calling on the president to lay out a strategy to protect civilians, to apprehend or remove Joseph Kony, and to improve humanitarian access to the region. And I think this is a concerted effort once and for all to help the governments of that region to eliminate the threat, the threat from the L.R.A."
That threat does not directly affect U.S. national security, but Washington sees Uganda as a solid partner in the region, most notably in peacekeeping efforts in Somalia.
Brookings Institution defense analyst Michael O’Hanlon said deploying a small number of U.S. troops to help Uganda fight the L.R.A. is a small investment that could yield big returns for the United States.
“To the extent the United States has any interest in Somalia being stabilized, it has an interest in seeing the Ugandan government able to keep its own country together, and able to keep it its own forces partially deployed to Somalia in order to help with that country where there have been al-Qaida related groups in the past.”
Advocate John Bradshaw prefers not to speculate on possible U.S. motives. He directs the Enough Project, a U.S. group that works to eliminate genocide and crimes against humanity, primarily in Africa’s Great Lakes region. To Bradshaw, what is important is that Washington is taking action, providing support that he said could help protect civilians.
“A lot of that is information-sharing, having communities get timely alerts about possible L.R.A. action, improving communications equipment, putting up cell phone towers so that vulnerable populations are forewarned when attacks might happen,” said Bradshaw.
For two decades, Uganda and other nations have been unable to wipe out the L.R.A. The group has broken up into smaller units and dispersed across borders through the jungle terrain. O’Hanlon said the U.S. military will bring some of the capabilities developed in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“In addition to training, which we are obviously pretty good at with some of our special forces, we also know how to do things like listen to cell phone communication and watch people with drones. Watching them with drones in the jungle is harder than watching them with drones in the desert, but we have gotten better at some of these things and we may be able to impart some of our lessons and best practices to the Ugandans.
U.S. leaders hope that with this knowledge and technology, even 100 troops can make a difference.