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US Government: LRA Mission Is In ‘National Interest’, Not ‘Strategic Interest’

The recent deployment of US troops to help with the hunt for Joseph Kony is of no strategic interest to America, but is in the country’s national interest.

That’s the view of Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, who was speaking at the United States Institute of Peace on Wednesday as part of a discussion on US policy towards the LRA.

Asst. Sect. Carson after speaking at the USIP

Around 100 American soldiers are in the Central-East Africa region advising regional forces on how to track the LRA.

Mr Carson was particularly keen to scotch any ‘conspiracy theories’ that the mission is for any other reason than to stop the rebel group’s nearly three-decade long reign of terror.

Malcolm Webb reports for al-Jazeera on the US deployment

His full address can be read here, but these are some of the highlights:

  • Anti-LRA legislation in the US is down to the activism of young people
  • Joseph Kony will use any chance to kill and abduct to replenish his forces
  • “this is not an open-ended commitment”, there will be regular review of US troop deployment to C. Africa
  • US troops are “sensitive to the challenge of civilian protection
  • 2 US personnel are working with MONUSCO, the UN mission in the region
  • There is no military-only solution to the LRA problem

Another revealing point was that Mr Carson felt that should Kony be captured, he should be tried in a Ugandan court rather than at the International Criminal Court.

This is a legacy of America’s decision not to sign up to the ICC, whose first arrest warrant was for the LRA leader.

Also speaking on the panel were William Bellamy, the director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, and Michael Poffenberger from Resolve (see his take on the event here).

The panel (L-R): Johnnie Carson, William Bellamy, Michael Poffenberger

Mr Bellamy wondered if this operation was America getting over its “Black Hawk Down syndrome” and welcoming that if it is.

He also raised concerns that the US might pull out prematurely if results were not seen quickly.

Mr Poffenberger provided perhaps the most frank statements of the day.

He argued that the LRA do not feel under any imminent threat, citing evidence that temporary homes had been built for senior LRA commanders to stay in for up to a month at a time.

While thanking the Obama administration for its actions so far, he warned that the job has not nearly been finished yet.

But perhaps the most striking point from the Resolve director was that Kony has already outlasted four US Presidents.

Interestingly, the panel were reluctant to discuss the possibility of using drones to target Kony, although Assistant Secretary Carson did mention that the terrain where Kony is hiding out would make that difficult.

Watching all of these remarks was a large audience including ambassadors from the countries in the affected region.

Ambassador Stanislas Moussa-Kemble from the Central African Republic nodded solemnly as Assistant Secretary Carson described the atrocities the LRA are committing in the area.

I managed to grab an interview with Ambassador Dickson Ogwang from Uganda on what he thought of the US deployment:

Dickson Ogwang talks to Adam Bearne about the US troops

When politicians talk about the LRA, even if they are slightly misinformed, I usually welcome the attention being given to the crises.

This event was even more important as it was the highest-level State Department commentary on the LRA crisis since the US legislation was passed.

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US Special Forces Arrive in Uganda: The Right Way to Stop the LRA?

US President Obama has sent 100 special forces soldiers to east Africa to help stop the LRA.

The President says this deployment is the fulfillment of an obligation in the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, and that the goal is to remove the LRA leader, Joseph Kony, and other senior commanders from the battlefield.

It is claimed that the soldiers will merely be helping local forces with intelligence, and will not engage the LRA unless they themselves are fired upon.

This makes me wonder whether or not these troops will “coincidentally” end up in the path of Kony, sparking a showdown that will see him captured or killed.

But is this the right thing to do?

Non-profit organisation Invisible Children, who raise awareness of the conflict,  seem to think so.

But others have argued, with some reason, that because the LRA is largely made up of abducted children, it isn’t right to send soldiers after them.

On another note, some think that President Obama has ulterior motives that are not humanitarian when it comes to this deployment.

It has been speculated that taking out the LRA is America’s reward to Uganda for its participation in the fight against the Islamic extremist group al-Shabab in Somalia.

Elizabeth Allen thinks that America would like to remove the LRA as a possible tool of the Sudanese government in destabilising the newly formed South Sudan.

Even when considering these other issues, I would still support the President’s move.

Every other method to try to stop the LRA has so far failed, and people on the ground with the technology and expertise to actually find Kony can only be a good thing.

And if this means that America get some by-products that they might welcome?

Well, who dares wins.

There is one major caveat to this of course.

Previous military action against the LRA failed to protect the civilian population, leaving Kony’s gang the freedom to kill hundreds of innocent people in retaliation.

This cannot be allowed to happen again.

The beginning of the end of the LRA?

It looks like America could be shaping up to take on the LRA and arrest Joseph Kony.

On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously passed the bipartisan LRA Disarmament & Northern Uganda Recovery Act.

What’s more, Senator Jim Inhofe spoke on the floor of the Senate about his support for the bill.

inhofe

These events are being seen as a major step towards the bill passing.

The power of America’s resources are undoubtedly what is needed to stop the LRA.

But will American leaders be able to stomach sending troops to Africa? After the infamous ‘Black Hawk Down’ incident in Somalia it may prove difficult.

Yet American leaders have consistently said that they would not allow atrocities like those that occurred in Rwanda to happen again.

Perhaps now is the time we will see if those words were empty or if the USA will stand up to be counted.