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US sends Ospreys, 150 more troops to hunt for Kony

Marine Sgt. Joseph Bergeron, a task force combat engineer, explains combat marksmanship tactics to a group of Ugandan soldiers Feb. 27, 2012. Among its duties, the task force trained Ugandan forces in the hunt for Joseph Kony and the Lord’s resistance army, which is behind a spike in violence in central Africa.

STUTTGART, Germany — The Obama administration will send 150 more special operations forces into central Africa to provide support for an effort to track down the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group, bolstering an effort than began more than two years ago, according to U.S. officials.

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told Stars and Stripes that “a limited number” of CV-22 Ospreys, refueling aircraft, and associated support personnel have been sent to bolster U.S. support for the African Union task force trying to put an end to the LRA’s atrocities.

“Our African partners have consistently identified airlift as one of their greatest limiting factors as they search for and pursue the remaining LRA leaders across a wide swath of one of the world’s poorest, least governed, and most remote regions,” Hayden said in a statement.

The aircraft will be deployed on a temporary basis to enhance the ability of the African Union Regional Task Force’s ability to transport personnel through the region.

The aircraft and additional troops will be based in Uganda, but will be used in the LRA-affected areas of the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan.

In 2011, Obama sent about 100 U.S. troops to several small military camps in central Africa to support regional militaries in areas such as training, intelligence gathering and assist in developing operational plans.

The 150 personnel now being deployed are aircraft support personnel, not combat troops, a Defense Department official said.

“We’re not adding any additional advisors or trigger-pullers or anything else like that,” said the official who not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. “These guys are not going out and actively looking for a fight.”

The troops do, however, have the right of self-defense.

The request for support aircraft from the African Union had been under discussion for some time, but the assets only recently became available from Central Command, the official said.

In all, there are to be 250 US special operations personnel involved in the on-going counter-LRA effort. That number could rise to as many as 300, the official said.

In recent years, the LRA has shrunk to about 200 fighters — down from about 2,000 at its peak — who operate in rugged terrain along the border regions of South Sudan, the DRC and CAR. It’s a virtually roadless territory roughly the size of California, which makes the group hard to track.

While Kony remains on the loose, officials say the counter-LRA effort has made progress during the past year with a series of high level defections. The LRA does not pose any direct threat to the U.S., but it is considered a destabilizing force in the region.

The number of people killed by the LRA, known for abducting children to serve as soldiers, has dropped by more than 75 percent since 2010, according to the NSC.

“The deployment of these aircraft and personnel does not signify a change in the nature of the U.S. military advisory role in this effort,” Hayden said. “African Union-led regional forces remain in the lead, with U.S. forces supporting and advising their efforts.”

vandiver.john@stripes.com

harper.jon@stripes.com
Twitter: @JHarperStripes

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