Obama sends troops to help fight Africa rebels
By Stephen Collinson (AFP) – 6 hours ago
WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama said Friday he is sending 100 combat troops to central Africa to help and advise forces battling the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army rebels accused of gross human rights abuses.
"These forces will act as advisors to partner forces that have the goal of removing from the battlefield Joseph Kony and other senior leadership of the LRA," Obama said, but warned they would not lead the fighting themselves.
The mostly special operations forces could deploy in Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of the Congo, subject to approval of regional governments, Obama said in a message to Congress.
LRA rebels are accused of terrorizing, murdering, raping and kidnapping thousands of people in the four nations, and tens of thousands of people died in their 20-year war with security forces in northern Uganda.
"Although the US forces are combat-equipped, they will only be providing information, advice, and assistance to partner nation forces," the president said.
"They will not themselves engage LRA forces unless necessary for self-defense. All appropriate precautions have been taken to ensure the safety of US military personnel during their deployment."
A small group of troops deployed to Uganda on Wednesday and additional forces will deploy over the next month.
Pentagon officials said the troops would travel to regional capitals to work with government officials, military officers and peacekeeping missions.
In a statement, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said "the United States condemns the continued atrocities and abductions committed by the LRA across central Africa."
Pledging continued US support to Uganda's neighbors, she said Washington has since 2008 provided more than $40 million in logistical support, equipment and training to "enhance counter-LRA operations" by armies in the region.
"We continue to join regional governments in calling on LRA fighters to peacefully disarm and return home," Nuland said.
Kony, accused of war crimes and wanted by the International Criminal Court, appears to have dropped any national political agenda and in recent years his marauding troops have sown death and destruction in the region.
Heading a movement based on a mix of religion and brutality, Kony a self-styled mystic and religious prophet, claims to be fighting on divine orders to establish theocratic rule based on the Biblical Ten Commandments.
The civil war effectively ended in 2006 when a peace process was launched, but Kony and his top lieutenants, commanding forces including child soldiers, continue to commit atrocities.
General Carter Ham, head of US Africa Command, said last week his best estimate was that Kony was probably in the Central African Republic.
Obama said in his message that the LRA had "murdered, raped, and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women, and children in central Africa."
"The LRA continues to commit atrocities across the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan that have a disproportionate impact on regional security," he said.
In 2009, Congress enacted a law expressing support for increased US efforts to mitigate and eliminate the threat posed to civilians by the LRA.
And a year ago, Obama unveiled a plan to disarm the LRA and increase humanitarian access to affected communities.
A coalition of human rights groups and anti-genocide groups welcomed Obama's decision.
"By deploying these advisers, President Obama is showing decisive leadership to help regional governments finally bring an end to the LRA's mass atrocities," said Paul Ronan, Director of Advocacy at Resolve.
"These advisers can make a positive difference on the ground by keeping civilians safe and improving military operations to apprehend the LRA's top commanders."
John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, said the US troops could play a catalytic role if they were used as part of a wider multinational strategy.
"Missing elements include more capable forces dedicated to the apprehension of Joseph Kony and protection of civilians, and an intelligence and logistics surge from the US to help those forces succeed," he said. AFP: Obama sends troops to help fight Africa rebels