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(by Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes, The Wall Street Journal, WSJ.com) WASHINGTON – The White House has authorized U.S. troops and advisers to deploy in Central Africa to help track down the leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army [LRA] rebel force—expanding the Obama administration’s string of interventions around the world, and stepping into the center of a conflict that has alarmed human-rights groups for more than a decade. …..
But U.S. officials emphasized that American troops would serve with a limited scope and duration as part of a strictly defined training mission in Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic [CAR] and the Democratic Republic of the Congo [DRC].
In a letter to Congress announcing the deployment, President Barack Obama said that up to 100 U.S. special-operations trainers and military advisers would assist African forces in their search for Joseph Kony, the fugitive head of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Mr. Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, has tormented the region since the 1990s through killings, mutilations and kidnappings.
“Although the U.S. forces are combat-equipped, they will only be providing information, advice, and assistance to partner nation forces, and they will not themselves engage LRA forces unless necessary for self-defense,” Mr. Obama said.
The first contingent of special-forces troops arrived earlier this week in Uganda. The rest of the force will reach the other three countries in coming weeks, pending formal approval from each government.
Although the Special Forces teams could engage in direct action if they were put under control of the Central Intelligence Agency, officials said they didn’t envision expanding the mission in that way.
The decision was welcomed by human-rights groups, who had made stopping Mr. Kony a cause for years. The U.S. effort has bipartisan support. The African Union [AU] has also decided to send a force to combat the LRA, according to a person familiar with the AU, who wouldn’t comment on the force’s size or deployment date. …..
The Lord’s Resistance Army is believed to have killed, kidnapped and attacked tens of thousands of civilians in recent decades at markets, schools and even churches, human-rights groups say. The United Nations estimates that the LRA has displaced over 380,000 people in the region.
The group emerged in northern Uganda in the 1990s but was driven out by the Ugandan military. Although Mr. Kony is thought to command just a few hundred armed loyalists, the difficult and often inaccessible terrain has made the group hard to find, officials said. Military officials said they believed Mr. Kony and other top LRA leaders are currently hiding in the Central African Republic.
Mr. Obama signed legislation in May 2010 committing the U.S. to support regional partners in a campaign against Mr. Kony’s group in central Africa. A senior administration official said the legislation triggered a “deliberative” review process within the White House, culminating in Friday’s announcement.
The White House argued that the training mission would further U.S. national security and foreign policy interests. Officials said the fighting has fueled instability and that a limited U.S. intervention was warranted on humanitarian grounds. The U.S. also has long-term economic interests in a region that is particularly rich in natural resources, including timber, gold, diamonds, uranium and oil.
The 100 troops will be primarily Army Special Forces teams, which specialize in what military officials call foreign internal-defense missions. The teams typically train foreign military units of several hundred soldiers, and are expected to train forces in all four countries.
A U.S. official said that in addition to general training, the U.S. forces in Uganda will help that country’s military units plan specific missions against the rebel group, as well as advise on the timing of operations.
American special-operations forces have been stretched thin by wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the global campaign against al Qaeda, underscoring the need for a limited mission. “We’re talking months,” the senior administration official said of the deployment’s anticipated duration.
The U.S. has training missions all around Africa, but they normally don’t attract much attention. The U.S. has small numbers of trainers in Sierra Leone, Chad and Liberia. There are about 200 U.S. trainers in Kenya and Ethiopia, and about 3,500 troops conducting missions in Djibouti.
One group of Special Forces soldiers has already been working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to train a light infantry battalion, to prepare that unit to fight elements of the LRA in the country’s northeast. The U.S. military’s Africa Command has also been exploring ways to support the military of South Sudan, officials said.
The new deployment is different in that teams will go to multiple countries, and will have the specific mission of helping to hunt down Mr. Kony.
“The Lord’s Resistance Army has no borders, so you have to take a regional approach,” said a defense official.
The teams will be able to travel to “field locations” in areas where the LRA conducts operations. Once there, they will be able to advise forces hunting the LRA. “This is designed to help our allies address a problem,” the defense official said.
The training offered by U.S. teams can vary widely, depending on the prowess of the unit they are helping. Instruction can be as simple as basic marksmanship or involve more complex man-hunting skills.
Since 2008, the U.S. has provided some $33 million to the Uganda People Defense Force’s efforts to combat the LRA. The military has also provided logistical support, training and intelligence support to neighboring countries that have been fighting the group.
This isn’t the first time the U.S. has attempted to track down Mr. Kony. In 2008, late in the administration of George W. Bush, the U.S. Africa Command helped the Uganda military plan an ultimately unsuccessful attack on LRA forces in northeastern Congo. About 17 U.S. military advisers provided satellite phones, fuel and intelligence to the Ugandan military. [NOTE: The United States Africa Command is one of nine Unified Combatant Commands of the United States Armed Forces, headquartered at Kelley Barracks, Stuttgart, Germany. It is responsible for U.S. military operations and military relations with 53 African nations – an area of responsibility covering all of Africa except Egypt.]
Because of weather delays, the LRA fighters fled ahead of the attack, although Ugandan officials said the operation eroded the LRA’s control of the area.
The decision to send the troops to central Africa contrasts with Mr. Obama’s refusal to send any ground forces to Libya, where the U.S. and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO] allies have waged an intensive air campaign.
—Keith Johnson and Neanda Salvaterra contributed to this article.
Copyright 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. Visit the website at wsj.com.
1. What is the LRA? – Where/when did it first emerge? Where are they now?
2. Why is President Obama sending a military group of trainers and advisers to four African countries?
3. a) How many troops are being sent to Uganda, South Sudan, the CAR and DRC?
b) What will the troops do there? (what is their mission?)
4. a) Why do the reporters think the military mission in Africa needs to be limited?
b) In what other African Countries is the U.S. currently conducting military missions?
5. How is this new mission different from the others currently being conducted in Africa?
6. Over the past 3 years, how much money has the U.S. given to Uganda People Defense Force’s efforts to defeat the LRA?
7. Why was a previous attempt in 2008 to capture LRA leader Joseph Kony unsuccessful?
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- The Lord’s Resistance Army [LRA] is a sectarian religious and military group, formed in 1987 and until about 2007 it was engaged in an armed rebellion against the Ugandan government.
- It is led by Joseph Kony, who proclaims himself the “spokesperson” of God and a spirit medium.
- The group claims to be establishing a theocratic state based on the Ten Commandments and local Acholi tradition.
- The LRA is currently proscribed as a terrorist organization by the United States.
- The vicious and cult-like Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which sought to overthrow the Ugandan Government, operated in northern Uganda from 1986 to 2006, where it killed tens of thousands of people, abducted thousands of children to serve as soldiers and slaves, and displaced approximately 1.8 million Ugandans. Human rights abuses committed by the LRA include murder, mutilation, abduction of young women for sexual servitude, and kidnapping of children to become rebel fighters.
- In 2005, the Ugandan military pushed the LRA out of northern Uganda. The LRA escaped to and continued to operate in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (D.R.C.), as well as in Southern Sudan and the Central African Republic (C.A.R.). Under military pressure, the LRA rebels requested peace talks, which the vice president of Southern Sudan mediated and which after 2.5 years resulted in a Final Peace Agreement (FPA) in April 2008.
- However, LRA leader Joseph Kony ultimately refused to sign the FPA and continued to commit atrocities against local populations in D.R.C., Southern Sudan, and C.A.R. In December 2008, the Governments of Uganda, D.R.C., and Southern Sudan launched a joint military operation against the LRA in northeastern D.R.C. This operation is ongoing as of 2011 and extends across LRA-affected areas in D.R.C., C.A.R., and South Sudan.
- There have been no LRA attacks in northern Uganda since August 2006. As a result, the vast majority of the 1.8 million former internally displaced persons (IDPs) have returned to or near their homes. Assistance from the Government of Uganda through its Peace, Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP) and from international donors has helped communities in northern Uganda rebuild and recover from the 20-year humanitarian catastrophe caused by the LRA.
(from the U.S. State Department website: state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2963.htm#political)
Read background on the African countries referred to in the article at:
- CIA World FactBook and
- U.S. Department of State website (Choose the country, then click on “Background Notes” next to the ambassador’s name)
Go to worldatlas.com for a map of Africa. (Click any country name for a more detailed map of that country.)