President Obama is deploying more troops to Uganda in a renewed effort to hunt down fugitive warlord Joseph Kony. But with ongoing crises in Syria and Ukraine, to name but two, some are calling this a chance for a quick and easy U.S. victory. The famous "Kony 2012" campaign launched by California-based non-profit Invisible Children was an instant and successful viral hit, but ended rather abruptly with the naked ranting and suspected nervous breakdown of the group’s founder Jason “Radical” Russell. Still, the group continues to publicize their cause, and are pleased with the White House announcement.
Obama is sending 150 Air Force Special Operations forces and several CV-22 Osprey aircraft to Uganda, the first time U.S. military aircraft are being sent to the country, according to Amanda Dory, deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs. Arriving midweek, they will join the 100 Special Operations troops Obama sent there to #FindKony in October 2011. The Osprey aircraft will be used for troop transportation, The Washington Post's Karen DeYoung reports.
"The announcement serves as a significant and very encouraging indicator of the Administration’s commitment to help end LRA violence and bring top LRA commanders to justice,” Ben Keesey, CEO of Invisible Children, writes, in a statement emailed to The Wire. “With LRA violence continuing — and even increasing in certain areas of Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic — the additional support to counter-LRA efforts is a positive and welcomed step toward security and peace for communities vulnerable to LRA attacks.”
The U.S. began the deployments, authorized under the War Powers Act, on Sunday night, bringing the total number of U.S. forces in Uganda to about 300. The new American personnel are authorized to “provide information, advice and assistance” to an African Union military task force who are tracking Kony; U.S. personnel are only allowed to engage with the LRA in self-defense.
Kony and his forces remain at large, and it’s believed he is somewhere in eastern Central African Republic. Attacks by the LRA have decreased in recent years, with the number of people killed by the group down 75 percent since 2010, according to Grant Harris, a special assistant to Obama and senior African affairs director for the National Security Council. It’s believed Kony has no more than 250 fighters, and they're shifting position frequently.
But with a three-year-long civil war in Syria continuing to kill and displace millions, and unrest in Ukraine and Crimea, it seems somewhat strange that finding Kony would suddenly become a priority. Writing in The Washington Post, DeYoung says that, “Although critics accuse Obama of 'weakness' in Syria and the administration has been challenged by Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, the Uganda action is a relatively inexpensive way to show resolve in a popular cause.”
Kony and his forces have been indicted by the International Criminal Court for their brutality, including violence against civilians, and stealing and recruiting children, forcing them to become soldiers and sex slaves, reports Lolita C. Baldor at the Associated Press.
Obama first announced his decision to send military personnel to Uganda as advisors in 2011, reports Helene Cooper in The New York Times. “For more than two decades, the Lord’s Resistance Army (L.R.A.) has murdered, raped and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women and children in central Africa,” Obama wrote in a letter to Congress. “The L.R.A. 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 then, the U.S. has continued to run “a semi-covert logistics and intelligence operation” to bolster the Ugandan Army and support its efforts to chase Kony, Cooper reports.
U.S. officials say that the deployments to Uganda do not represent a softening in Obama’s criticism of the country’s anti-gay law, which Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed into law last month. “Ensuring justice and accountability for human rights violators like the LRA and protecting” the rights of gay and transgendered persons “are not mutually exclusive,” Harris told The Washington Post.
In his statement, Keesey also points to the country's new law, and writes that,"It is important to note that this announcement also comes at a time when U.S.-Uganda relations have been complicated by the passage of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act.”