By sending 100 US troops to Uganda to help in the battle against one of Central Africa’s most violent and feared armed groups, President Obama is once again siding with those in his administration who favor American intervention against the world’s worst violators of human rights.
On Friday Mr. Obama informed Congress that he has dispatched the “combat-equipped US forces” to assist regional forces in their fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army, a group that has murdered, kidnapped, and raped thousands of Central African civilians and which Obama says continues to commit “atrocities” across several African countries.
Specifically, the American troops are tasked with assisting in “the removal from the battlefield” of Joseph Kony and other senior leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, Obama said in a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate.
Although the troops will be equipped for combat, officials specified that their principal role would be advisory. “These advisers will not engage LRA forces unless necessary for self-defense,” said State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland in a statement Friday.
In his letter, Obama noted that Congress has supported US efforts to “help mitigate and eliminate the threat posed by the LRA to civilians and regional stability” in legislation in 2009 and 2010.
But the president’s announcement Friday is also reminiscent of the decision he made in March to undertake a bombing campaign in Libya targeting the forces of Muammar Qaddafi. At that time Obama’s decision was seen as a victory for the administration’s “liberal hawks” – in particular Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, and White House special adviser Samantha Power – who argued for US intervention on the side of Libya’s threatened civilian population.
That intervention was not favored by other administration officials more cautious about the deployment of US forces – most notably former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
But this new Africa deployment, though modest in scale, would appear to bear the imprint of Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice in particular. Both women have dedicated special attention to addressing the mass atrocities committed by “terror armies” across portions of Africa, from the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Uganda and South Sudan.
And both women have insisted since the early days of the Obama administration that the horror for Africa’s women of mass rapes must not be left unaddressed.
Early reactions to Obama’s decision suggest support from the “interventionist” wings of public opinion.
“By deploying these advisers, President Obama is showing decisive leadership to help regional governments finally bring an end to the LRA's mass atrocities,” said Paul Ronan, director of advocacy at Resolve, a public policy dispute resolution organization involved in Africa. “These advisers can make a positive difference on the ground by keeping civilians safe and improving military operations to apprehend the LRA's top commanders.”
Resolve’s statement was part of an announcement from a coalition of human rights and anti-genocide organizations applauding Obama’s deployment of troops.
But the decision also garnered support from the right, particularly among some evangelical Christians involved in African issues.
“I have witnessed firsthand the devastation caused by the LRA, and this will help end Kony’s heinous acts that have created a human rights crisis in Africa,” Senator Inhofe said. “I have been fervently involved in trying to prevent further abductions and murders of Ugandan children, and today’s action offers hope that the end of the LRA is in sight.”
Inhofe noted that the steps Obama announced Friday were “outlined in our legislation” of 2009 that called for assisting in the “disarmament” of the LRA and in the “recovery” of northern Uganda in particular.