Since the 1980s, a Ugandan rebel group calling themselves the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been raping and murdering civilians and turning young children into killing machines in an area of Africa that includes the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the new state of South Sudan and western Uganda.

Ambassador CarsonIn October, President Barack Obama decided to send 100 Special Forces to try and eliminate the LRA and its leader Joseph Kony. On Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson, at a talk at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, DC, said US troops sent to Uganda would not engage in combat operations themselves and that the US interest is humanitarian.

“We believe the LRA’s actions are an affront to human dignity and a threat to regional stability,” he said.

He also clarified that despite “some confusion in the media” and “conspiracy theories in the press” the deployment is “focused on the LRA and the LRA only.”

Carson said the US troops are there in a supportive and advisory role to help the forces of the four countries to develop the military skills to wipe out the LRA, which currently has about 150 to 200 troops - thanks to Uganda’s military forces, which have killed and captured a number of officers. The last time U.S. troops were sent to an African conflict zone was in 2003 when a group of marines was sent to Liberia.

Last month, the African Union formally declared the LRA a terrorist group, and pushed for the United Nations Security Council to do the same, marking the first time Africa's security body has issued such a statement. Kony was indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2005 on war crimes charges, but has remained on the loose. 

In Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s report to the UN Security Council last month, he said that regional military operations against the LRA must continue, but acknowledged that national militaries in the region did not have the resources and capabilities to deal with the problem.

There are a number of challenges to this mission, Carson said. The LRA are operating in small groups across densely forested and jungle terrain in one of the least developed regions in Africa without even basic roads and telecommunications.

Carson urged LRA fighters and abductees to defect and escape and told the story of two pregnant women who courageously escaped from the LRA in the middle of the night. “They walked for four days, crossing three rivers,” he explained.

Those who escape will be given help and repatriated back to their communities, he assured, “A future free of the LRA is possible.”

(Photo © DR)