By Krista McCarthy
President Barack Obama sent a letter to the US House of Representatives and Senate on Friday, October 14th, announcing plans to send 100 US Special Forces advisors to Uganda, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo. The advisors will advise the militaries of these countries in countering the rebel militia the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), led by Joseph Kony.
The Lord’s Resistance Army has long been a source of instability and violence in the nations of central Africa. Joseph Kony formed the Lord’s Resistance Army to overthrow the government of Uganda and replace it with a Christian theocracy. The LRA has committed massacres of civilians and often mutilated victims to spread fear. Between 1986 and 2007, the LRA reportedly killed 100,000 people in Uganda. They have also become infamous for their use of children as soldiers and sex slaves. Over the course of the war in Uganda, over 66,000 children have been abducted by the LRA in Uganda. More than 1,700,000 Ugandan civilians have been displaced by the LRA’s violence.
The LRA’s violence has spilled over borders and caused instability in South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, displacing tens of thousands of people. The militaries of these countries joined a joint operation in December 2008 with the military of Uganda called Operation Lightning Thunder, the aim of which was to kill or capture senior leadership at a rebel camp in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The mission failed to achieve its objectives and the LRA retaliated for the attempt by massacring nearly 1,000 Congolese civilians gathered for Christmas celebration in Haute Uele district of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in an instance that became known as the “Christmas Massacres”. At least 160 children were abducted during the massacres.
South Sudan has also struggled with a Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency. Since the failed Operation Lightning Thunder in 2008, the LRA has killed 216 South Sudanese and abducted nearly 150 children. As of May 2010, LRA violence had reportedly displaced 87,000 South Sudanese from their homes on top of another 20,000 Congolese refugees who fled to South Sudan for refuge.
President Obama’s directive deployed the US Special Forces to Uganda starting with an advance group on October 12th. The rest of the 100 military advisors will deploy over the next month. From Uganda, the advisors will be deployed to South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Central African Republic with the approval of their governments to train their militaries to take out the LRA’s leadership. The Special Forces will be combat-equipped but are there in a training capacity and will only engage directly with the LRA if it is necessary for their self-defense.
The full text of President Obama’s letter can be found on the White House website.