U.S. Troops in Africa Worry Lawmakers

The Obama Administration promises that the engagement will be short-lived, but some are wondering why American troops are involved at all.

Posted: 10/27/2011 02:01 PM EDT
U.S. Troops

It is no secret that over the past few years, the U.S. has taken an increased interest in the affairs of African nations. Now that a victory has been declared in Libya, the U.S. is setting its sights on quelling conflict in central Africa, and some in Congress are questioning why.

President Obama recently authorized the deployment of 100 special forces to eastern and central Africa to advise a multi-national force of troops from Uganda, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic in dismantling the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and tracking down its leader, Joseph Kony.

"This is a short-term deployment with specific goals and objectives," Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Donald Yamamoto told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "We believe the U.S. advisers can provide critical capabilities to help regional forces succeed. We will regularly review and assess whether the advisers' effort is sufficient to enhance the regional effort to justify continued deployment."

The LRA is a militant group intent on toppling the Ugandan government and has utilized a campaign of terror, rape and murder to achieve its goals. Kony himself, as well as several of his advisers, face indictments by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, including mass rape and the use of child soldiers.

Obama administration officials say the engagement will be “short term,” but haven’t been firm on a clear date of exit, which worries some.

"I have a lot of concerns. I have a lot of anxious moments about whether or not the number of troops won't grow to 200-300 or even more,” said Rep. Don Manzullo, R-Illinois, according to CNN.

Another potential issue is the scope of the troops’ mandate while in Africa. The mission only authorizes U.S. troops to operate in an advisory capacity, but the forces will carry weapons for self-defense — a situation that some say has the propensity to get out of hand.

"The United States deploys a hundred military advisers who happen to be special forces — you know, I think we should just call this what it is, it's a 'kill and capture' mission," said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-New York.

Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow told lawmakers that the mission would end when Kony and his leadership team are successfully captured and when the U.S. sees "tangible" improvements in the forces the U.S. troops are advising. Still, many in Congress said that more transparency is needed.

“Pertinent information related to this mission, such as the anticipated cost, the scope, the duration of the deployment was omitted from the report to Congress,” said Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) earlier this week, when lawmakers gathered to question the deployment. “We need clarity on the rules of engagement, the mission parameters and the definition of success, as well as how U.S. military presence in Central Africa furthers U.S. national security interests and the objectives outlined in the president’s November 2010 strategy.”

(Photo: Logan Mock-Bunting/Getty Images)

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