U.S. Forces in Uganda

An LRA child soldier.

Two weeks have elapsed since U.S. President Barack Obama took the surprising step of deploying special forces and intelligence assets into Central Africa with the mission to end the longest-running insurgency in Africa. While this mission is carried out, the messianic leader of the insurgents, Joseph Kony, is the subject of an indictment by the International Criminal Court.

The feedback and blowback regarding the decision has been unique in certain perspectives. By all accounts Joseph Kony needs to be brought to justice. In that aspect there is unanimous consent. However, the route to get there is leading to various sidetracks and even questions about that old American political axiom, "the devil we know versus the devil we don’t know."

Let us consider the actions that have been taken by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and the Ugandan Parliament since the decision was first announced.  Within days the police in Kampala broke up an opposition political demonstration using tear gas. The main opposition candidate for president during the highly contested and controversial presidential elections this year, Dr. Besigye, was arrested and then ordered released by a court in Kampala. Reports have also indicated that the highly controversial Bahati Bill has been reintroduced into Parliament as well. A high-profile corruption case regarding the oil industry that has led to the resignation of government ministers is set to begin shortly. Some of the evidence in this trial is to be provided by the CIA.

The actions of the human rights community have been interesting. Some of the groups that lobbied the U.S. government and Congress unsuccessfully to have the country abide by the Rome Statute (ICC treaty) and then criticized the failure to do so have embraced this decision by Obama. It appears that the atrocities that have been committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army over the last couple of decades trump the concerns over whether or not the U.S. personnel that are part of this effort could find their actions and mission scrutinized by the ICC and could be indicted as well in the future.

The presentation of this deployment by the White House and the State Department to Congress and the American public has been underwhelming as well. The president did meet his constitutional responsibility by informing the speaker of the House and the president pro tem of the Senate of this decision. After that it seems to slide down a slippery slope of confusion.

The Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives held hearings regarding this deployment, which is authorized under the LRA Disarmament Law of 2010. But the testimony had two major flaws. First of all, it gave the impression that the State Department lacked any intelligence regarding the LRA. Whether or not this flaw stems from the CIA and other intelligence agencies or even from embassies on the ground remains to be seen. However, having only the State Department testify regarding a military deployment is poor policy.

There is a record of what the Pentagon thinks of this deployment. Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in early October, Commanding General of AFRICOM (U.S. Africa Command) Gen. Carter Ham stated that enforcing the LRA law and decisions made by the president were a key priority of his command.

What are the regional implications of this deployment? We have heard that this will be a short-term mission that can be measured in months, not years. But there are other factors that could determine the length of this mission and even the potential of the troops and spooks being placed in a combat situation.

Elections are scheduled at the end of November for both the president and the Parliament of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At a press conference that occurred in Washington at the end of October, a question was asked if there is any possibility that the LRA could do something that would try and impact this election. It was felt that it was not feasible at this time since the LRA and Kony were hiding in the Central African Republic. It should also be noted that in the days just prior to this announcement it was reported that a Ugandan patrol came within close proximity of Kony but the elusive leader was warned by his bodyguards.

Another interesting reaction has come from the newly independent nation of South Sudan. This week the government in Juba has demanded that Ugandan forces leave their soil. They were invited in to try and locate Kony and other members of the LRA. However, the Ugandan troops have been accused of illegal logging and other activities such as distributing Sudanese land to Ugandans. These are the soldiers that we are supposed to be assisting to capture Kony. There are already U.S. forces in South Sudan assisting their army train, so one question that needs to be asked is, will there be mission creep or an overlap in the missions in South Sudan?

Who in Washington will ask or attempt to answer these questions? 

Scott A. Morgan comments on U.S. policy towards Africa and publishes Confused Eagle, which can be found at and on Facebook and StumbleUpon.