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Ugandan prez: Call them 'personnel,' not 'troops'

The 100 American special operations troops being deployed to Uganda aren't really "troops," the country's president said Sunday, since they won't be doing any fighting, so it's better to call them "U.S. personnel."

These "personnel" will be helping the Ugandan military combat the extremist resistance movement called the Lord's Resistance Army, which has a brutal record against its enemies and innocent civilians alike. But the American "personnel" won't be doing any of the combatting themselves, said President Yoweri Museveni, so, y'know, just ... be cool.

Maybe there's no need for this reassurance: Since Friday's announcement that President Obama was sending this detachment, the response in the United States has seemed relatively muted. Compare the reaction this weekend to that of House Republicans earlier this year when they picked Libya out of their outrage issues hat, which then turned into about a monthlong sturm und drang about American warmaking powers. (Then disappeared when Rs pulled the debt ceiling from the outrage hat.) Maybe one reason for the non-response is lawmakers were out of town, and another reason could be that Congress itself has said it wants to take action against the LRA. In 2009 it passed a law supporting increased efforts against the movement and its leader, Joseph Kony, so now those chickens are coming home to roost.

Here is what Obama told Congress he has ordered in a letter made public Friday:

In furtherance of the Congress's stated policy, 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. I believe that deploying these U.S. armed forces furthers U.S. national security interests and foreign policy and will be a significant contribution toward counter-LRA efforts in central Africa.

On October 12, the initial team of U.S. military personnel with appropriate combat equipment deployed to Uganda. During the next month, additional forces will deploy, including a second combat-equipped team and associated headquarters, communications, and logistics personnel. The total number of U.S. military personnel deploying for this mission is approximately 100. These forces will act as advisors to partner forces that have the goal of removing from the battlefield Joseph Kony and other senior leadership of the LRA. Our forces will provide information, advice, and assistance to select partner nation forces. Subject to the approval of each respective host nation, elements of these U.S. forces will deploy into Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The support provided by U.S. forces will enhance regional efforts against the LRA. However, although the U.S. forces are combat-equipped, they will only be providing information, advice, and assistance to partner nation forces, and they will not themselves engage LRA forces unless necessary for self-defense. All appropriate precautions have been taken to ensure the safety of U.S. military personnel during their deployment.

Pentagon Press Secretary George Little anticipated your question -- isn't this another open-ended commitment that will put more American fingerprints on yet another broken part of the world? Why, no, he said:
There is a clear end state -- to enable local forces to render the LRA ineffective.  (Examples of training tasks for local forces include tracking, intelligence assessment, and conducting patrols.)
Continued Little, in an announcement:
The conduct of this training and assistance mission is not significantly different from other training and advising missions in the AFRICOM AOR. However, rather than training for a generic mission, this assistance is for a specific mission -- to enable local forces to render the LRA ineffective. In addition, our forces will be conducting training in the same geographic areas where this dangerous group operates, which puts them at a higher risk than other similar training missions. They will be armed for self-defense.
So -- no big deal; this is what AfriCom does anyway, right? That's the story -- but there is one other thing. As the AP's Jason Straziuso writes from Nairobi, there are political and diplomatic complications as well. Ugandan troops have been fighting al Shabab in Somalia, Straziuso reports, which means means less work for the United States. It's possible that deploying American special operators to Uganda to deal with its insurgency problem is a way of saying, 'You scratch my back; I'll scratch yours.'

 

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