The late breaking story this afternoon is that around 100 U.S. troops will be deploying to four countries in Central Africa to assist local military forces in tracking down Joseph Kony, leader of the infamous Lord's Resistance Army. President Obama explained the decision in a letter to House Speak John Boehner:
For more than two decades, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has 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. Since 2008, the United States has supported regional military efforts to pursue the LRA and protect local communities. Even with some limited U.S. assistance, however, regional military efforts have thus far been unsuccessful in removing LRA leader Joseph Kony or his top commanders from the battlefield. In the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009, Public Law 111-172, enacted May 24, 2010, the Congress also expressed support for increased, comprehensive U.S. efforts to help mitigate and eliminate the threat posed by the LRA to civilians and regional stability.
In furtherance of the Congress's stated policy, I have authorized a small number of combat-equipped U.S. forces to deploy to central Africa to provide assistance to regional forces that are working toward the removal of Joseph Kony from the battlefield. I believe that deploying these U.S. Armed Forces furthers U.S. national security interests and foreign policy and will be a significant contribution toward counter-LRA efforts in central Africa.
According to the letter, the first of the troops arrived in Uganda on Wednesday. It also specifies that "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 announcement is actually a bit less than meets the eye. As the Nation's Jeremy Scahill notes, there's been pretty close cooperation between the U.S. and Ugandan miltiaries -- particularly in Somalia -- for some time now. Obama signed the "Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act" back in 2010. And even before that, there were reports of the U.S. providing assistance to anti-LRA operations by the Ugandan military.
It's interesting that Obama chose to inform Boehner "as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution". This seems like a far less significant military operation than this year's airstrikes in Libya, which the administration continued after 60 days despite never receiving Congressional authorization under that resolution. Does this mean that the White House will eventually have to ask for authorization for the mission, or does the LRA Disarmament Act preemptively cover that?
In any case, a coalition of human rights groups including the Enough Project and Invisible Children have already praised the move:
"The deployment of these advisers demonstrates that President Obama is on the right track, and that he's taking seriously the calls from hundreds of thousands of young Americans that want to see an end to the senseless LRA violence once and for all," said Ben Keesey, Executive Director of Invisible Children.
Also worth a read today is Human Rights Watch Director Kenneth Roth's piece from our "Plan B for Obama" package last November, which argued that "would reaffirm that mass murder cannot be committed with impunity. And it would show that, despite the difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan, the humanitarian use of force remains a live option at the Obama White House."