US sends in troops to take on Africa's most barbaric guerrillas

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

American special forces arrive in Uganda to help tackle group led by bloodthirsty Christian mystic

In a highly unusual move, the United States is venturing into one of Africa's bloodiest conflicts, sending special forces to central Africa to support a decades-long fight against a guerrilla group accused of horrific atrocities. President Barack Obama said the troops will assist local forces in a long-running battle against the Lord's Resistance Army, considered one of Africa's most ruthless rebel groups, and help to hunt down its notorious leader, Joseph Kony.

The first of the troops arrived in Uganda on Wednesday, the White House said, and others will be sent to South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Obama administration said the troops – special forces believed to number about 100 – will advise, rather than engage in combat, unless forced to defend themselves.

While the size of the deployment is small, it is a surprising intervention. Although some US troops are based in Djibouti and small groups of soldiers have been deployed to Somalia, the US traditionally has been reluctant to commit forces to help African nations to put down insurgencies. It demonstrates the Obama administration's escalating attention to and fears about security risks in Africa, including terror networks, piracy and unstable nations.

Pentagon officials said the bulk of the deployment will be of special operations troops, who will provide security and combat training to African units. The move raises the profile of US involvement on the continent – and is an apparent victory for administration officials who have argued for more robust intervention in humanitarian crises. A number of high-ranking Obama advisers have been left scarred by the US failure in the 1990s to intervene to stop genocide in Rwanda and the belated action to halt the violence in Bosnia.

The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has waged a 24-year campaign of rebellion, rape and murder in northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. Aid agencies say its atrocities have left thousands dead, and have put caused as many as 300,000 people to flight flee from their homes. They say the group deliberately recruits children to bolster its ranks of soldiers and sometimes forces them to become sex slaves. Estimates of children abducted range from 20,000 to more than twice that number with many, according to the Refugee Law Project, made to kill their parents.

The LRA's roots go back to the early 1980s, when a woman called Alice Lakwena claimed the Holy Spirit had ordered her to lead a movement to overthrow the Ugandan government in defence of the Acholi people of the north. She failed and went into exile; Joseph Kony, a former altar boy, then emerged to recast the movement as the Lord's Resistance Army. This seized young people and children, and forced them to fight, committing atrocities by ambushing villagers with machetes, swords, and stones.

Kony – thought to have at least 60 wives – is wanted by the International Criminal Court under a 2005 warrant for crimes against humanity in his native Uganda. A self-styled prophet, who mixes Christian mysticism with politics, he is believed to be hiding somewhere along the Sudan-Congo border. His group is at its weakest point in 15 years, its forces fractured and scattered. The Ugandan military estimated earlier this year that only 200 to 400 fighters remain, with an unknown number of camp followers and helpers, many of whom have been press-ganged. In 2003, the LRA had 3,000 armed troops and 2,000 people in support roles.

Capturing Kony remains the highest priority for Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni, who has committed thousands of troops to the African Union force in Somalia to fight militants from the Islamist group al-Shabab. Colonel Felix Kulayigye, Uganda's military spokesman, said of the US deployment: "We are aware that they are coming. We are happy about it. We look forward to working with them and eliminating Kony and his fighters."

A special forces unit can have an effect that is far greater than its numbers might suggest. They are highly skilled in disrupting insurgency networks by discovering where rebels are based and how they procure arms, money and other logistical support. Most of the troops will deploy to regional capitals to work with government officials and military commanders on countering the rebels and protecting civilians.

Coming from Washington's successful, if limited, intervention in Libya, the Uganda deployment represents a continued effort by Mr Obama to use military force for humanitarian protection in areas where atrocities are occurring. Sending 100 troops may not be significant in terms of military numbers, but the composition of the force gives the United States a new counterterrorism foothold in a region of the world that is beset by terrorist networks, kidnappers, pirates and unstable nations.

The US has not had forces in Somalia since pulling out shortly after the 1993 Black Hawk Down battle in Mogadishu, in which 18 American troops died. The new deployment indicates a change of emphasis for Washington, suggesting that it has overcome its reluctance to commit troops to Africa – a normality reflected in the basing of the US Africa Command, which oversees military operations on the continent, in Germany. The US maintains a base in the tiny East African nation of Djibouti, but most troops there are not on combat missions.

In recent months, the administration has stepped up its support for Uganda, which has played a key role in battling Islamist extremists in Somalia. In June, the Pentagon agreed to send nearly $45m (£28m) in military equipment to Uganda and Burundi. The aid included four small drones, body armour and night-vision equipment, as well as communications gear, and is being used in the fight against Al-Shabaab, an al-Qa'ida-linked group that US officials see as a growing threat and one that African peacekeeping troops in Somalia have been battling to suppress.

Matt Brown, a spokesman for the Enough Project, a US group working to end genocide and crimes against humanity, especially in central Africa, said: "The US doesn't have to fight al-Qa'ida-linked al-Shabaab in Somalia, so we help Uganda take care of their domestic security problems, freeing them up to fight a more dangerous – or a more pressing, perhaps – issue in Somalia. I don't know if we would necessarily say that but it's surely a plausible theory."

Bill Roggio, the managing editor of news blog Long War Journal, called the Obama administration's rationale for sending troops "puzzling", especially since the LRA does not present a national security threat to the US – "despite what President Obama said". He added: "The timing of this deployment is odd, especially given the administration's desire to disengage from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is unclear why the issue has resurfaced, but the administration may be rewarding Uganda for its military contributions in Somalia."

Last November, the US announced a new strategy to counter the LRA's attacks on civilians. US legislation passed last year with huge bipartisan support called for the co-ordination of US diplomatic, economic, intelligence and military efforts against the LRA. That's one reason, Mr Brown said, why Mr Obama may be sending in advisers. He said that regional stability is also good for US interests. "It doesn't take that many US resources," Mr Brown said. "You've got 100 troops to go in and take care of the LRA problem once and for all." AP

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Voices
Vivienne Westwood and her son Joe Corré deliver an anti-fracking letter to No 10 last week
voicesThe great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick