Uganda yesterday welcomed the arrival, on Wednesday, of the first batch of US Special Forces that President Obama assigned to help regional armies “remove” LRA leader Joseph Kony and his commanders from the battlefield.
“This confirms that LRA is no longer just a Ugandan problem but a regional one,” said military Spokesman Col. Felix Kulayigye. “We welcome this development and the US forces will augment us wil ideas and technology.”
The UPDF last week nearly captured Kony as he took a bath in Ndjema, Central African Republic, but the rebel chief, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, fled after his guards fired warning shots, according to Col. Kulayigye. The army, he said, found a basin of water and towel, but believes it was Kony himself taking a shower “because of the security around”.
This newspaper could not independently verify those claims, one of the many near-misses accounts by the Ugandan military that previously reported seizing Kony’s clothing.
President Obama on Friday wrote to Mr John Boehner, informing the House Speaker that he had - in line with the Lord’s Resistance Army and Northern Uganda Recover Act of 2009 - authorised deployment of approximately 100 American troops to Uganda, South Sudan, DRC and the Central African Republic.
“These forces will act as advisers to partner forces that have the goal of removing from the battlefield Joseph Kony and other senior leadership of the LRA. Our forces will provide informative, advice and assistance [to the regional armies,” he wrote.
Although combat-equipped, the President said the troops will not directly engage the marauding LRA fighters unless fired upon.
Deployment of the elite Green Berets comes a week after US Ambassador Jerry Lanier, hosted a two-day secret counter-LRA conference in Kampala with top Ugandan military commanders, including Chief of Defence Forces Aronda Nyakairima. In attendance were US envoys; Mr Lawrence Wohlers (CAR), Mr Christopher Datta, US Charge d’Affaires to South Sudan, and Amb. Robert Loftis, the acting coordinator, Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilisation.
This regional consultative meeting, which took place as AFRICOM commander Carter Ham announced in Washington that Kony was likely hiding in CAR, is understood to have drawn the final plans for a fresh decisive attack on the LRA leader who eluded both death and capture during the December 2008 Operation Lightning Thunder.
Placement of the second combat-equipped team, associated headquarters, communications and logistics personnel will take two months, a senior official at the US Mission in Kampala said.
Public Affairs Officer Daniel Travis said: “It (deployment) is not open-ended but will depend on regional cooperation and conditions on the ground. These personnel will work with regional forces through information sharing and operational cooperation. That’s the purpose of embedding them with [military] units pursuing the LRA.”
Since 2008, the US has expended over $40 million in critical logistical support, equipment and training to enhance counter-LRA operations by regional militaries here, according to the Department of State.
Officials would not say if Washington would this time round conduct precise drones as it has done in Pakistan and recently in Somalia to hit Kony.