James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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Guest Post: Did Obama Make the Right Call on Kony?

by
October 14, 2011

The leader of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army rebels Joseph Kony (seated C), surrounded by his officers, addresses his first news conference in 20 years of rebellion in Nabanga, Sudan, August 1, 2006 where he called on a ceasefire with the government as a prelude to peace talks. BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE REUTERS/Adam Pletts (SUDAN)

The leader of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army Joseph Kony (center), surrounded by his officers, addresses his first news conference in twenty years of rebellion on August 1, 2006. (Adam Pletts/courtesy Reuters)

President Obama notified Congress today that he is sending about a hundred combat troops to central Africa to help fight the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and in particular, to oust its leader Joseph Kony. My assistant, Kate Collins, follows events in Africa and offers her thoughts on why the Obama administration acted.

President Obama’s decision to send up to a hundred U.S. troops to several countries in Central Africa isn’t likely to be popular here at home. With U.S. troops still fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, seven in ten Americans say that the United States is involved in too many conflicts abroad. Nonetheless, it’s hard to disagree with Obama’s argument that Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army needs to go—and soon.

The LRA has been wreaking havoc on Uganda since 1987. The rebel group, which originated in the northern part of the country, hopes to overthrow the government in Kampala and create a state based on the Ten Commandments. Over time the Ugandan army, with assistance from the United States, succeeded in beating back Kony’s fighters. Unfortunately, the result was that the LRA dispersed into the neighboring countries of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and what is now South Sudan.

The LRA has now murdered more than 30,000 people and displaced another two million. It has abducted more than 100,000 children, indoctrinating them with the belief that Kony speaks the word of God and drugging them to fight without fear. For these crimes and more, Kony and his senior aides have been living under the threat of an International Criminal Court arrest warrant since 2005.

The argument for sending troops after Kony isn’t just that he has committed evil. It’s also that his actions are creating instability in central Africa, instability that anti-American terrorist groups can and will exploit. The United States is already confronting the problems created by terrorists operating in ungoverned spaces in Somalia, Mali, and Niger.

The U.S. troops will deploy to Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and Congo. While the soldiers are combat-ready,  they will serve in an advisory capacity, providing information and training to local militaries. They will not engage in combat except for purposes of self-defense.

The U.S. troop deployment can make a decisive difference. Kony’s forces have been weakened in the past few years, in good part because of the $4.4 million in aid Kampala has received from the Obama administration. Kony now commands fewer than 300 fighters. Putting U.S. boots on the ground will likely lead to the complete collapse of the last remnants of his army.

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