In a letter to Congress on Friday, Obama outlined a strictly advisory role for U.S. forces, whom he said would engage in combat only in self-defense. The initial military contingent numbering about a dozen troops arrived in Uganda on Wednesday, and will grow to full strength in the coming weeks.
The decision follows more than a year of study within the White House on how to support the intent of a bill passed by Congress to help several Central African nations defeat a destabilizing guerrilla movement.
Human rights officials have urged Obama to deploy troops against the Lord’s Resistance Army, arguing that it would be a justified use of force to resolve a humanitarian crisis. The International Criminal Court indicted Kony and four other commanders in 2005 on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
But the deployment comes as the Obama administration is withdrawing from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, where long wars have tested the patience of the American public and consumed resources the president has argued are needed at home. White House officials said that this troop deployment — the most substantial to an African conflict zone since Marines landed in Liberia in 2003 — is modest in number and in the scope.
“This is an advise and assist mission,” said Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council. “It’s an indication of our support for the ongoing regional effort to confront this threat.”
The Lord’s Resistance Army has been operating in the border regions of northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other Central African nations for more than two decades. Led by Kony, a former altar boy with a messiah complex, the army has been fighting to install what it says would be a Christian government in Uganda based on the Ten Commandments.
Although numbering only about 250 armed members, the movement is notorious for its civilian killings and kidnappings, particularly of children. The White House estimates that roughly 385,000 people have been displaced from villages in the region as a result of those tactics.
A smaller group of U.S. military advisers assisted a previous Ugandan-led offensive against the Lord’s Resistance Army in late 2008 and early 2009. That operation backfired, however, as Kony’s group escaped and his fighters responded by committing a string of massacres against civilians.
Fewer than two dozen U.S. personnel were involved in that operation, in which they provided intelligence and guidance to a force of Ugandan and Congolese troops that were hunting Kony’s group in a remote area in northeastern Congo. Kony’s fighters slipped away and rampaged through nearby Congolese villages, killing several hundred people, according to human rights groups. Washington Post