Editor's Note: Daniel R. DePetris is an MA Candidate at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, where he studies security issues. He is an associate editor of The Maxwell Journal of Counterterrorism and Security Analysis.
By Daniel R. DePetris - Special to CNN
Around one hundred American Special Forces troops are sitting in their barracks and preparing to start their tour of duty. Sounds like a typical day in the life of a soldier whose country has been extensively engaged in overseas conflicts for the past ten years. The only exception here is that the soldiers are getting ready to deploy to a region that has nothing to do with Iraq or Afghanistan, the two theaters of war that the U.S. military and its allies have grown the most accustomed too. Rather, the area assigned to this small contingent is smack in the middle of the African continent, spread across four countries in the Sub-Sahara—Uganda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic.
The mission? To provide assistance to the region’s governments in their fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a notorious and inhumane insurgent group that has been terrorizing the region since its creation in 1987. While an overt generalization, the group could perhaps be described as a small-time Christian version of Al’Qaeda led by Joseph Kony—a cult-like figure as equally delusional as the former AQ emir Osama bin-Laden.
This comparison may seem farfetched to some. But to innocent Africans in the Sub-Sahara who have experienced the sharp edge of the LRA, it is a perfectly suitable parallel. Much like the late bin Laden, Joseph Kony claims to speak to his subjects on the behalf of God. Kony’s LRA group has no qualms about targeting civilians, whether it includes killing a bystander during an operation against the Ugandan Government or deliberately kidnapping a small child from his family—only to drug and brainwash him to join their cause.
Tens of thousands of men, women, and children have been murdered as a result of LRA rampages, which often include the razing of entire villages and the kidnapping of young girls and boys to refurbish its rank-and-file. It is not uncommon for the girls who are abducted to be converted into sex slaves or forced into marriages with LRA fighters. The boys who are snatched up have two choices, which are not really choices at all. Either they fight to the death for Kony’s apocalyptic worldview, or they can expect to be executed and dumped into a mass grave filled with their victims.
Civil society organizations and international aid groups have long documented LRA abuse, with reports that are so disturbing (note of caution) that even people without a full heart feel queasy after reading them.
This is not the first time the United States has tried to weaken Kony. In 2008, President George W. Bush sent a small team of counterterrorism advisors to Uganda in order to train the Ugandan military for an offensive against his cult. President Bush personally authorized the order to assist the Ugandan and Congolese armed forces in the jungle dividing the two nations, where at the time it was believed the bulk of the LRA was holed up. American military officials, packed with satellite technology and human assets on the ground, coordinated with both countries in the assault, which was such a dismal failure that by the time the armies reached their desired location, Kony and his band of animals were already long gone.
President Obama has followed in the footsteps of his predecessor when it comes to the anti-LRA campaign. In May 2010, Obama signed the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009 to reassure its Central African allies that Washington will help punish the LRA’s leadership for their butchery with technical intelligence and logistical assistance. The deployment of 100 fully armed U.S. military advisors complements this effort, which the weak governments of Central Africa would like nothing more than to complete.
For President Obama, this is a smart move politically. In addition to building up his portfolio as a president who takes humanitarian concerns seriously, sending U.S. military reinforcements to the region will demonstrate to America’s African allies how sincere the United States is in tracking down and eliminating one of the worst human rights violators in Africa’s contemporary history. Pitching in may also help cement the U.S.-African counterterrorism relationship in the Horn of Africa, including an increase in possible African assistance to the African Union Mission in Somalia (America’s Ugandan and Burundian partners have already been enormously helpful in defending Somalia’s weak transitional government).
The only plausible cost to Obama’s decision is the possibility of American casualties. But with the U.S. advisory team armed with a clear mission statement and the weapons to back it up, any confusion that may result from the battlefield will be limited.
100 soldiers may not seem like a lot, but in Africa, it is quality that counts.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Daniel R. DePetris.