In an expanded attempt to continue the hunt for warlord Joseph Kony, President Obama has authorized the deployment of military aircraft and about 150 Special Operations forces to Uganda.
According to the Washington Post, the administration notified Congress of the deployments as they began on Sunday, and the troop movement was later confirmed to Reuters by the Defense Department.
The move marks the first time that US military aircraft have been assigned to Uganda in order to help search for Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. Under Obama’s orders, at least four CV-22 Osprey aircraft are scheduled to arrive in the country by the middle of the week, alongside a contingent of 150 Air Force Special Operations troops, pilots, and maintenance forces.
The Post reports that the new influx of troops will “provide information, advice and assistance” to the African Union forces searching for Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army. The troops are “combat-equipped,” but are barred from fighting the LRA themselves except in self-defense situations. The aircraft, meanwhile, will be used to move troops from one location to another.
Despite the increased US presence, the troop deployment comes at a time when Kony’s whereabouts are unknown, though he and approximately 250 troops are believed to be hiding somewhere in the jungles bordering the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo. Already, a 5,000-unit African Union force is searching for Kony, but the LRA’s attack presence has dwindled 75 percent since 2010, and the man has not been sighted recently.
As noted by the New York Times, Kony first emerged in Uganda during the 1980s, when he formed the LRA and hoped to rule Uganda using laws based on the Ten Commandments. The LRA has been known to use brutal tactics against those who oppose it, including taking girls as sex slaves, using boys as child soldiers, and chopping off the limbs of its victims.
“For more than two decades, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has murdered, raped and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women and children in central Africa,” Obama wrote to Congress in 2011 when he first sent US troops to Uganda, according to the Times. “The LRA 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.”
Obama’s decision to send more troops also arrives as Uganda insists it will keep its harsh new anti-gay law in place, but the Post reports that government officials “insisted they did not imply any weakening in the Obama administration’s criticism of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni for signing a new law imposing harsh penalties for ‘homosexual offenses.’”
As RT reported earlier this month, Western countries have criticized the new law, which establishes life sentences for gay sex and gay marriage, and also criminalizes “homosexual propaganda.” Some European countries have already withdrawn their aid packages to the country, but a Ugandan spokesman said the laws will remain on the books regardless.