STUTTGART, Germany -- Troops who were part of the hunt in central Africa for rebel warlord Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army are eligible for medals awarded to those who served in the global war on terrorism, the Defense Department said.
Operation Observant Compass, which sought to capture Kony and neutralize the brutal LRA, "is hereby approved as a designated operation for award of the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal (GWOTEM) and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal (GWOTSM)," the Pentagon said in a Feb. 28 memo.
To qualify for the expeditionary medal, troops must have deployed to Observant Compass' broad area of operations during the period between October 2011, when the operation was formally launched, and its official end in Sept. 2017, the memo said.
Observant Compass mainly operated in the border regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Central Africa Republic and Uganda.
Led by Kony, a self-proclaimed messiah who once had ambitions of taking over Uganda, the LRA caused havoc in central Africa for over two decades, kidnapping children and forcing them to join its ranks or serve as slaves, and causing tens of thousands of people to flee their homes.
President Barack Obama ordered U.S. forces into central Africa in 2011 to work alongside African Union troops, who were in charge of the hunt for the warlord. The U.S. military also provided intelligence and logistical aid.
In the six years that the U.S. was involved in the campaign, the number of LRA fighters dropped from around 2,000 to less than 100, AFRICOM said in 2017.
A key part of the success in cutting the LRA's ranks was a campaign that encouraged the rebel group's fighters to abandon Kony and turn themselves over to international authorities.
The hunt for Kony is one of a growing list operations grouped under the global war on terror, which dates to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Participants in other global war on terror operations -- including Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Nomad Shadow, New Dawn, Inherent Resolve and Freedom's Sentinel -- are also eligible for the medals. Those who served in support of airport security operations between Sept. 27, 2001, and May 31, 2002, are eligible for the GWOT Service Medal.