REPORTING FROM WASHINGTON AND JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- President Obama is deploying about 100 special operations troops to Africa to help target the leadership of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a notorious rebel group that has been entrenched in a stalemate with the government of Uganda for more than two decades.
In a letter notifying Congress on Friday, Obama said the first small team of U.S. “combat-equipped” advisors arrived in Uganda on Wednesday.
Over the next month, the remaining U.S. troops will be sent to surrounding countries, including South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Congo.
The goal of the U.S. mission is to assist regional African forces in removing Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony and other commanders of the group “from the battlefield,” the letter says.
“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,” the letter says
A militia known for abducting children and forcing them to fight, often mutilating them, the Lord’s Resistance Army has long been condemned by the U.S. and human rights organizations for atrocities against civilians.
The militia keeps sex slaves, rapes women and has killed thousands of people. For years, in Uganda and neighboring countries, it has resisted efforts by African forces to curb its violence.
Inspired by a combination of mysticism and eccentric Christian rhetoric, Kony, who is about 50, is on the U.S. terrorist list and is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity committed in a two-decade war in northern Uganda between rebels and government soldiers. Kony signed a peace deal in 2006, but continued to operate in neighboring countries.
The Lord’s Resistance Army has since cut a swath across Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan.
The head of the U.S. Africa command, Gen. Carter Ham, said this month that he believed Kony and other commanders were hiding in the Central African Republic.
Addressing the Center for Strategic and International Studies think-tank in Washington, he said the rebel group was still committing atrocities, kidnapping people and killing,
Over the last three years, the U.S. has provided more than $40 million in equipment and training to armies in the region to combat the rebel group and target Kony, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.
-- Brian Bennett in Washington and Robyn Dixon in Johannesburg
Photo: Charles Okello, then 23, was cutting sugarcane outside the Patongo camp for displaced people in northern Uganda when he was attacked by LRA rebels who suspected him of being a Ugandan soldier. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times