Official: Troops in Central Africa for Months, Not Years

WASHINGTON, Oct. 25, 2011 — About a hun­dred U.S. troops being deployed to Cen­tral Africa will be there for months — not years — and only until the nation­al armies of the region are capa­ble of dis­man­tling the ter­ror­ist group known as the Lord’s Resis­tance Army, a senior Pen­ta­gon offi­cial told Con­gress mem­bers today.

“We’ve made very clear that this is not an open-end­ed com­mit­ment,” Alexan­der Ver­sh­bow, assis­tant sec­re­tary of defense for inter­na­tion­al secu­ri­ty affairs, told the House For­eign Affairs Com­mit­tee. “We agreed there would be review after sev­er­al months to know whether our advi­sors are mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant progress.”

The U.S. mil­i­tary and the State Depart­ment are work­ing togeth­er on a four-point plan to help rid Cen­tral Africa of the LRA, head­ed by Joseph Kony, who has been indict­ed for inter­na­tion­al war crimes, Ver­sh­bow said. He appeared before the com­mit­tee along­side Don­ald Yamamo­to, prin­ci­pal deputy assis­tant sec­re­tary of state for African affairs, to explain the oper­a­tion Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma announced Oct. 14.

The U.S. troops — most­ly Army Spe­cial Forces — will work with the mil­i­taries of Ugan­da, the Cen­tral African Repub­lic, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic of Con­go, and South Sudan to cap­ture or kill Kony and oth­er LRA com­man­ders, Ver­sh­bow said.

The State Depart­ment will over­see the oth­er three parts of the plan: to pro­tect civil­ians, dis­arm and dis­man­tle the LRA, and pro­vide human­i­tar­i­an relief to areas affect­ed by the guer­ril­la mili­tia, Ver­sh­bow and Yamamo­to said. The LRA, they said, is com­posed most­ly of kid­napped chil­dren forced to exe­cute Kony’s ter­ror­ist tac­tics over the past 20 years. Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple have been mur­dered and as many as 1.8 mil­lion have been dis­placed by the LRA, which has attacked at least 240 times this year, Yamamo­to added.

Kony was placed on a spe­cial­ly des­ig­nat­ed inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ist list in 2008, but has no known ties to oth­er groups such as al-Qai­da or al Shabab, Yamamo­to said. Kony began the LRA — a ter­ror­ist group with no reli­gious ties — in Ugan­da, but moved out of the coun­try in 2006 to work in small groups in sur­round­ing areas, he said.

U.S. Africa Com­mand has pro­vid­ed train­ing and equip­ment to cen­tral African mil­i­taries, and those mil­i­taries have been suc­cess­ful against the LRA, which is down to about 200 core fight­ers and about 600 sup­port­ers, Yamamo­to said. About 12,000 LRA fight­ers, he said, have left the group and been rein­te­grat­ed into their home envi­ron­ments.

African mil­i­taries have devel­oped capac­i­ties and work togeth­er in dif­fi­cult jun­gle ter­rain, but need mil­i­tary assis­tance in merg­ing intel­li­gence with oper­a­tions plan­ning, Ver­sh­bow said.

With the con­sent of all the cen­tral African gov­ern­ments, some U.S. troops already have moved into the affect­ed area, Ver­sh­bow said. Most will stay in Ugan­da, but some will for­ward deploy with African troops, he added.

Under Obama’s order, U.S. troops are lim­it­ed to an advi­so­ry and assis­tance role, but will be armed and equipped for their own defense, Ver­sh­bow said.

“We’ve already seen a lot of progress by the Ugan­dans and oth­er mil­i­taries in reduc­ing the LRA’s num­bers,” he said. “We think we’re build­ing on a fair­ly strong foun­da­tion here. But those region­al forces have been hin­dered by their inabil­i­ty to gath­er intel­li­gence and turn into oper­a­tional action.”

The cost and dura­tion of the deploy­ment is unclear, Ver­sh­bow said, but it like­ly will cost tens of mil­lions of dol­lars and last sev­er­al months.

“We will review it in a few months to ensure it is hav­ing suc­cess on the ground,” he said. “We define suc­cess, first and fore­most, as to whether Kony and the oth­er com­man­ders are cap­tured, the num­ber of defec­tions, and the abil­i­ty of the African armies to suc­ceed.”

The action is sim­i­lar to those the U.S. mil­i­tary under­took in train­ing and equip­ping Geor­gian and Bosn­ian mil­i­taries in recent years, Ver­sh­bow said.

“What we’re doing in this spe­cif­ic case is a sub­set of broad­er efforts we’re mak­ing through­out Africa to pro­mote the pro­fes­sion­al­iza­tion of those mil­i­taries and to solve their own prob­lems,” Ver­sh­bow said.

“This will give greater mil­i­tary coop­er­a­tion among the four key states involved … so we don’t have to inter­vene in the future,” he added.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)