U.S. troops to aid in hunt for rebel leader in Central Africa
President Obama said Friday he's dispatching about 100 U.S. troops to Central Africa to help battle the Lord's Resistance Army, which the administration accuses of a campaign of murder, rape and kidnapping children that spans two decades.
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — President Obama said Friday he's dispatching about 100 U.S. troops to Central Africa to help battle the Lord's Resistance Army, which the administration accuses of a campaign of murder, rape and kidnapping children that spans two decades.
In a letter to Congress, Obama said the troops will act as advisers in efforts to hunt down rebel leader Joseph Kony, but will not engage in combat except in self-defense.
Pentagon officials said the bulk of the U.S. contingent will be special-operations troops, who will provide security and combat training to African units.
The White House said the first troops arrived in Uganda on Wednesday. Ultimately, they'll also deploy in South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The deployment to Central Africa is but the latest sign of an increasing administration focus on the continent, amid increasing concerns about shaky governments, civil strife and sprawling regions that have become both havens for terrorists and spawning grounds for piracy.
Long considered one of Africa's most brutal rebel groups, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) began its attacks in Uganda more than 20 years ago but has been pushing westward.
The administration and human-rights groups say its atrocities have left thousands dead and have put as many as 300,000 Africans to flight. They have charged the group with seizing children to bolster its ranks of soldiers and sometimes forcing them to become sex slaves.
Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court under a 2005 warrant for crimes against humanity in his native Uganda.
Obama's announcement came in low-key fashion — a letter to House Speaker John Boehner in which he said the deployment "furthers U.S. national security interests and foreign policy and will be a significant contribution toward counter-LRA efforts in central Africa."
The deployment drew support from Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who has visited the region.
"I have witnessed firsthand the devastation caused by the LRA, and this will help end Kony's heinous acts that have created a human rights crisis in Africa," he said in a statement. "Today's action offers hope that the end of the LRA is in sight."
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., said he hopes it will "save innocent lives and begin to bring the LRA to justice for the immense human tragedy that has fallen across Central Africa at its hands."
But Obama's letter stressed the limited nature of the deployment.
"Our forces will provide information, advice and assistance to select partner nation forces," it said. "Although the U.S. forces are combat-equipped, they will ... not themselves engage LRA forces unless necessary for self-defense."
Most of the troops will deploy to regional capitals to work with government officials and military commanders on countering the rebels and protecting civilians, Pentagon officials said.
In recent months, the administration has stepped up its support for Uganda, which has played a key role in battling extremists in Somalia.
In June, the Pentagon moved to send nearly $45 million in military equipment to Uganda and Burundi. The aid included four small drones, body armor and night-vision and communications gear, and is being used in the fight against al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked group that U.S. officials see as an increasing threat and that African peacekeeping troops in Somalia have been battling to suppress.
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