STUTTGART, Germany — Less than a month after sending a “limited number” of CV-22 Ospreys and refueling aircraft into central Africa to assist in the hunt for fugitive warlord Joseph Kony, the U.S. military is pulling those additional assets out of the mission, a top U.S. general said.
“In fact, they’ve just begun to move back out,” Africa Command’s Gen. David Rodriguez told reporters in Washington, according to a transcript of the briefing.
In late March, 150 noncombat troops were sent to Uganda along with the tilt-rotor aircraft as part of an effort to bolster the effectiveness of regional forces involved in the yearslong search for Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army. The assets, which were on loan from U.S. Central Command, were described at the outset as temporary in nature.
Rodriguez did not rule out the return of Ospreys and other airlift capabilities to central Africa but said that it would depend on new intelligence and whether the assets were requested by the African Union regional task force, which is headed up by Uganda.
“The biggest challenge that the African Union regional task force is having is light mobility, to get after Kony and his leaders,” Rodriguez said on Tuesday. “So we’ll again, support those efforts — as required,” he said.
The added aircraft and the troops that came with them were stationed in Uganda, but they were to be used in the areas of the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan where the LRA has operated.
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 operational planning.
Despite those efforts, the whereabouts of Kony remains unknown. Still, military officials say the mission has had some successes, including numerous high-level defections from the ranks of the LRA, which today stands at only about 200 fighters.
Despite the multinational search, the LRA has proven hard to track, operating across some of Africa’s most remote territories in the vast border regions of South Sudan, the DRC and CAR. Much of the dense jungle terrain is roadless.
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 U.S. officials.
The LRA poses no direct threat to American interests but is potentially destabilizing for U.S. allies.