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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama announced Friday that U.S. combat troops are in central Africa helping local forces pursue the leadership of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a violent rebel group.

The initial team of advisors deployed Wednesday, and the number will rise to about 100 during the next month, Obama wrote in a letter to Congress. The first troops were sent to Uganda, but forces could also move into South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, subject to the approval of those nations, Obama said.

“I have authorized a small number of combat-equipped U.S. forces to deploy to central Africa to provide assistance to regional forces that are working toward the removal of Joseph Kony from the battlefield,” Obama wrote.

The U.S. personnel are there to provide information and advice, not to fight, the letter said.

“[They] will not themselves engage LRA forces unless necessary for self-defense,” Obama wrote. “All appropriate precautions have been taken to ensure the safety of U.S. military personnel during their deployment.

The U.S. military contingent will mainly be composed of special operations forces, the Pentagon said Friday.

“[We] stress that these U.S. troops will be working to advise and assist regional efforts, not acting independently,” a senior defense official said in a statement emailed to reporters Friday afternoon. “The advisors will be traveling out to field locations in the areas affected by the LRA where they can interact with and advise those forces that are actively pursuing the LRA. However, to repeat, they will not be engaging in direct combat against the LRA.”

U.S. military personnel have already trained local troops in the fight against the LRA, and the United States has provided $33 million to help the Ugandan military effort against Kony, according to the Pentagon. But that hasn’t been enough to do the job, necessitating direct military support, Obama said.

“Even with some limited U.S. assistance, however, regional military efforts have thus far been unsuccessful in removing LRA leader Joseph Kony or his top commanders from the battlefield,” according to the letter.

Kony, who proclaims himself a direct representative of God, has been implicated in crimes against humanity and war crimes including murder, rape and the kidnapping of children for use as fighters. The International Criminal Court issued warrants for Kony’s arrest in 2005.

The letter to Congress, Obama wrote, was in compliance with his obligations under the War Powers Resolution.

carrollc@stripes.osd.milTwitter: @ChrisCarroll_

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