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Why Obama is sending troops to Africa – a closer look

The 100 US Special Operations troops sent to central Africa will act as 'military advisers' in the hunt for Joseph Kony, the murderous rebel leader of the Lord's Resistance Army rebel group.

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The US soldiers will not be “hunting” Mr. Kony, the diplomat adds, and “they will not take part in combat.”

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“They will be helping the [Ugandan military] refine [its] operations by sharing tactics and procedures we have learned in 10 years of low intensity conflict while helping them look at the 'problem set' through fresh eyes. The [Ugandan military] is a professional force with a lot of combat experience, [and] embedded advisors will help them leverage their strengths.”

The Obama administration’s deployment has won some praise from activist groups like the Enough Project.

“President Obama should be lauded for deploying qualified military advisers to the region,” said Enough’s co-founder John Prendergast, adding that if the Obama administration “helps generate multilaterally the necessary logistical and intelligence support for those troops, the LRA’s days will be numbered.”

But other humanitarian aid groups have been more cautious.

Concerns for civilians

Noah Gottschalk, a senior humanitarian policy advisor for Oxfam America, says that a military operation is just one of many potential tools for combating the LRA, and one that could put countless thousands of civilians in harm’s way.

“The truth is that the LRA are really good at evading military action,” says Mr. Gottschalk, noting that the area in which the LRA operate – including northern Uganda, South Sudan, northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic – is about the size of California.

The Ugandan military has tried a military solution in dealing with the LRA in the past, Gottschalk said, most recently with their Operation Lightning Thunder at the end of 2008. “That operation was designed to go after the LRA with the stated intent of making the LRA go away, but it left civilians a lot worse off.”

In the long run, the solution may be the boring work of development, Gottschalk says.

“The LRA goes to places where there is little development, they don’t go to places where there are big roads," he says. "So if you start to squeeze that area, building roads, bringing in infrastructure, you’re not only bringing development to the most neglected corners of Africa, you’re also reducing the territory that the LRA can operate in.”

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