(Updates with regional context of Obama’s decision in final three paragraphs.)
Oct. 14 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama authorized about 100 “combat-equipped U.S. forces,” including special operations personnel, to central Africa to help fight against Uganda’s renegade Lord’s Resistance Army and its leader, Joseph Kony.
The troops are to “provide assistance to regional forces that are working toward” Kony’s removal “from the battlefield,” Obama said today in a letter to House and Senate leaders released by the White House.
The White House was responding to 2010 legislation pushed by a group of lawmakers and human rights organizations that supported a comprehensive U.S. effort short of active military involvement to mitigate or eliminate the Lord’s Resistance Army threat.
The Lord’s Resistance Army for more than 20 years “has murdered, raped and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, woman and children in central Africa,” Obama’s letter said. The State Department has designated the group a terrorist organization, and in 2008 the Treasury Department added Kony to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists.
The U.S. has provided more than $40 million since 2008 for “critical logistical support, equipment and training” to forces fighting Kony, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
Previous assistance includes 17 U.S. military advisers on a training mission, U.S. Africa Command spokesman Kenneth Fidler said in an e-mail.
“Even with some limited U.S. assistance, however, regional military efforts have thus far been unsuccessful in removing Kony or his top commanders,” Obama’s letter said.
The 100 troops, primarily U.S. special operations forces, will assist forces from Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo with “information, advice, and assistance,” the letter said.
U.S. troops will not directly engage Kony’s forces “unless necessary for self-defense,” Obama said.
“We don’t know how long the duration” of the deployment will be, and “hope it will lasts until Kony and his commanders are brought to justice,” said Michael Poffenberger, executive director of Resolve, a Washington-based human rights groups pushing for action. Poffenberger said he was briefed by the National Security Council before release of the Obama letter.
The special operations forces will be performing “foreign internal defense” training that’s to “provide the right balance of strategic and tactical experience to supplement host nation military efforts,” Fidler said.
“Our forces are prepared to stay as long as necessary,” he said. The personnel will be commanded by Special Operations Command-Africa.
Besides the humanitarian grounds for sending troops cited by Obama, the U.S. has growing concern that the instability caused by the LRA will benefit militant Islamic groups in Somalia and northern Africa.
So far, said William M. Bellamy, a former U.S. ambassador to Kenya who heads the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University in Washington, there is no evidence that the LRA has links to any Islamist groups. “The LRA is kind of off on its own planet,” he said.
The U.S. does have a growing interest in helping Uganda battle the LRA, Bellamy said, in part because the country is preparing to send an additional 2,000 peacekeeping troops to battle the militant group al-Shabaab in Somalia.
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