Government officials in Uganda are cheering the arrival of 100 U.S. Special Forces to back up their flagging efforts against the Lord’s Resistance Army, a ragtag rebel group that has eluded capture while it terrorizes local populations.
Critics, however, fear the small troop force will be the foot in the door for a larger deployment, creating havoc for local civilians.
The mission was approved last year with bipartisan support in the "Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act,” with the removal of LRA leader, Joseph Kony, as one of its top goals. "The removal of Kony and his top leadership would decapitate this group,” declared Rep. Ed Royce of the House Africa Committee. ”This legislation ensures U.S. leadership in making that happen. The day can't come soon enough."
The initiative has won applause from human rights and advocacy groups, but little has been heard from ordinary Ugandans, many of whom view the mission skeptically, according to Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire.
“They think what (the U.S.) is actually here to do is secure for their country Uganda’s newly found oil… The mistrust and suspicion of American military interventions is well understood considering its record world over.”
In a television interview, New York area publisher Milton Allimadi, a Ugandan, said he suspected wider ulterior motives – particularly U.S. concerns for oil-rich Southern Sudan. “I don’t think 100 troops would make a significant difference” in fighting the LRA, and added… “I smell a possible mission creep here.”
“If it were a question of trying to help innocent civilians that are being brutalized,” he continued, “the first place most Africans would expect the U.S. to want to intervene is Congo. That’s where militias supported by Uganda, a U.S. client, and Rwanda have been committing atrocities.” Over six million people have died in that conflict, he said. Uganda, coincidentally, has scaled down its anti-LRA efforts, withdrawing over 700 troops from the field and cutting back on funding. “(The LRA) is not a threat to Uganda – not at all,” Felix Kulayigye, spokesman for the Uganda armed forces, told the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.
Added Allimadi: “Ugandans are more focused on getting rid of their own dictator – President Yoweri Museveni - who has been financed and supported by the U.S. for 26 years. If you took a poll, most Ugandans would prefer that the U.S. not stand in their way.”
Fighting the LRA has taken the lives of some 10,000 people, the displacement of two million and the abduction of about 60,000 children, many of them forced to become child soldiers.
Previous U.S. involvement in an anti-LRA operation – called Operation Lightening Thunder - ended in disaster with over 900 people killed and an unscathed LRA spreading out from Uganda to the DRC, the Central African Republic and parts of western Southern Sudan. U.S. training in Uganda