Obama Sending Troops to Fight Lord’s Resistance Army

Obama is trying to get into Guinness under "US President with Most Simultaneous Wars"

News that President Obama is sending 100 American troops to Central Africa to fight something called the Lord’s Resistance Army has been met with varations of my initial reaction among my Twitter foreign policy list:  ?!

CNN (“Obama orders U.S. troops to help chase down African ‘army’ leader“):

President Barack Obama is sending about 100 U.S. troops to Africa to help hunt down the leaders of the notoriously violent Lord’s Resistance Army.

“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 said in letter to the House Speaker John Boehner and Daniel Inouye, the president pro tempore of the Senate. He was making a reference to the head of the LRA.

“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.”

Obama notes that the LRA “has murdered, raped, and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women, and children in central Africa” and “continues to commit atrocities across the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan that have a disproportionate impact on regional security.”

He said the United States has backed regional military efforts since 2008 to go after the LRA, but they have been unsuccessful. U.S. military personnel will advise regional forces working to target Kony and other senior leaders. The president said the troops will not engage LRA forces “unless necessary for self-defense.”

Obama cites the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009. In that, Congress “expressed support for increased, comprehensive U.S. efforts to help mitigate and eliminate the threat posed by the LRA to civilians and regional stability.”

“I have directed this deployment, which is in the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive. I am making this report as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution,” he said. “I appreciate the support of the Congress in this action.”

The best reactions to this I’ve seen thus far:

  • @NeilBhatiya: i sense a disturbance in the force, as if hundreds of ppl are simultaneously, furiously googling Lord’s Resistance Army
  • @JimmySky: Does anyone else get the impression Obama is trying to get into Guinness under “US President with Most Simultaneous Wars”?
  • @SarahJSchles: I formally submit my resignation for trying to figure out what the hell is happening in US fopo.

Lauren Jenkins anticipated this almost a year ago:

There is a scourge upon the earth known as Joseph Kony.

Since the late 1980s, he has led the quite blasphemously named Lord’s Resistance Army in a brutal insurgency nominally targeting the Ugandan government. I like blasphemy as much as the next person but next to Kony my jokes about gay angels and their role-playing fetishes sound like Sunday morning hymns.

For decades, Kony and the LRA have terrorized northern Uganda and environs by laying waste to towns, killing and maiming civilians, abducting and arming children, and generally recreating the goriest parts of the Old Testament.

Lately, and especially since refusing to sign a peace deal in 2008, Kony has taken his smiting band of misfits on a three-country tour, to the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sudan, killing nearly 2,000 people and displacing over 400,000. As of a couple weeks ago, he has reportedly taken his smite-y band of bandits to Darfur.

Yes, that Darfur, the one not even George Clooney could save.

How do we stop him? Choose you own quagmire!

 

[…]

Going after the command elements of the LRA with an international force would look a lot like Afghanistan circa 2003 through last month. It would be messy. It would be unsuccessful. Kony is an excellent strategist and has 25 years experience hiding in the bush. When he’s approached, he disappears. When he’s threatened, he attacks civilian populations.

This would seem to be the opposite of the Libyan intervention: The situation has been going on for quite some time, the international community hardly seems to care, and the US is committing troops on the ground. It’s a real head-scratcher.

Less snarky reactions will follow as we figure out what the hell’s going on here. Oh, by the way: The UN is pushing very, very hard for some sort of international response in Syria.

UPDATE: Max Fisher, my editor for International stories at The Atlantic, weighs in with “Why Is Obama Sending Troops Against the Lord’s Resistance Army?” The tagline almost makes me ashamed to be a Realist: “The pseudo-Christian terror cult has enslaved 66,000 children in its 20-year campaign across several African countries in Central Africa, but it poses no threat to the U.S. or its interests.”

Some salient excerpts:

When the Lord’s Resistance Army showed up in the Central African Republican village of Obo in 2008, everyone who refused to join them was killed. One of the men they scooped up, Daba Emmanuel, would spend the next year as one of the LRA’s slave-soldiers. Indoctrinated, abused, and eventually forced to perform raids like the one against Obo, he survived to tell journalist Graeme Wood his story. “We killed the old immediately, and kept the young for work,” Emmanuel said.

[…]

2009 U.S. law authorizing financial support to Uganda against the LRA cites studies finding the LRA had abducted 66,000 children and displaced two million civilians. Last year, Human Rights Watch Kenneth Roth — no hawk –  called on Obama to use U.S. military force against the Lord’s Resistance Army. Roth cited the group’s overwhelming humanitarian toll, its small size, and (unlike, for example, the Taliban) its extreme unpopularity among the areas it terrorizes.

The U.S. already supplies intelligence and a few million dollars to the Ugandan government in its totally failed quest to stop the LRA and to capture Joseph Kony, who is under indictment for war crimes from the International Criminal Court.

[…]

Kony may be barking mad — he performs bizarre rituals and claims to fight for “the Ten Commandments” — but he has survived for two decades, outnumbered and outmatched by every metric, on little more than his ideology and his wits. “Kony is a brilliant tactician & knows the terrain better than anybody. He surrounds himself with scouts who have what amounts to an early warning system, which is how he’s eluded capture for so long,” Morehouse College assistant professor and Central Africa expert Laura Seay warned on twitter. “Kony also operates in some of the least-governed areas of the world’s weakest states. Many of these places have no roads, infrastructure. All of this adds up for a potential mess for US troops, who don’t know the terrain & can’t count on host government troops to be helpful or even to fight. This will not be easy for only 100 US forces to carry out, especially given language barriers.” Seay also points out that Kony uses children as human shield — and as much of his fighting force — making any direct action ethically and morally difficult.

[…]

It’s difficult to find a U.S. interest at stake in the Lord’s Resistance Army’s campaign of violence. The group could go on killing and enslaving for decades — as they well might — and the American way of life would continue chugging along. It’s possible that there’s some immediate U.S. interest at stake we can’t obviously see. Maybe, for example, Uganda is offering the U.S. more help with peacekeeping and counterterrorism in East Africa, where the U.S. does have concrete interests, in exchange for the troops. But it certainly looks like a primarily or purely humanitarian military mission, if a very small one. The Obama administration is hoping that these 100 troops will succeed where past U.S. assistance against the LRA — intelligence, satellite images, fuel, and millions of dollars — has failed. Maybe they will and maybe they won’t. But this seems to suggest a small but important shift in how, where, and why the U.S. uses applies military force.

If there’s a good case for do-gooder interventionism, this is it. Kony is a Class A Bad Guy. But there are a lot of really bad dudes running around Africa and other parts of the developing world and I’m not at all eager to take them all on.

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FILED UNDER: Africa, World Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Hey Norm says:

    I’m sure it’s a Kenyan Anti-Colonialist Socialism Fascist thing.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    I didn’t support Hillary because I thought she was at best neocon lite. It looks like Obama is a full blown neocon.

  3. MBunge says:

    For those who care, and none of us probably should, Rush Limbaugh has described this as Obama sending in the U.S. to fight “Christians”.

    Mike

  4. The LRA is a truly nasty organization and an example of how yes. Virginia, Islam is not the only religion that can be subverted to truly awful ends.

    Having said that, I have to wonder about this policy move.

    @MBunge: If Limbaugh did say that (and you aren’t joking) this ranks as one of the most ignorant and opportunistic things Limbaugh has ever said.

  5. Rob in CT says:

    Wow.

    Look, *if* we are to be interventionist nutbags, I can’t get too worked up about taking on the LRA, since they’re pretty awful. But I don’t want to be interventionist nutbags, and that’s a big part of the reason I voted for Obama.

    Yeah, yeah, it’s only 100 troops (I can say that – I’m not one of the 100, nor family or friends w/them) and the LRA is really awful. For the record, I knew about the LRA before today.

    But still, I’m frustrated. Apparently both parties have concluded that we ought to be Policeman of the World. They have different takes on how to go about it (and seriously, Libya + this <<<< Iraq, in scale. The Afghanistan escalation balances things out some, though), but fundamentally the view of our role in the world seems really bipartisan. They'll scream at it other for doing it wrong, but they don't actually disagree.

    As always, I hope for quick success and return of our troops unharmed.

  6. JKB says:

    Thank God, they gave him the Nobel Peace Prize before he’d actually done anything. It’d be a hard sell just 3 years into his administration.

    On the other hand, anyone actually working to bring peace should be insulted if they are selected for the Prize. Al Gore, the UN, Obama, not very auspicious company.

  7. Hey Norm says:

    100 troops??? According to a quick Google search 100 Troops go through DFW everyday. Doesn’t seem like that big a deal to me in the scope of things.
    Maybe it’s just that, after attacking and occupying Iraq for absolutly no reason, I’m numb to this stuff.

  8. CB says:

    if this is a SF detachment, how is it so different from what we are already doing worldwide? we have units deployed to something like 100 countries, how is this different?

    of course i could be wrong about the nature of the operation. im just genuinely curious.

  9. Hey Norm says:

    Rob…
    I have to say I haven’t seen a lot of downside to Libya…and saw a report the other day that the life of citizens there is improving rapidly.
    On the other hand I absolutely agree with you about interventionism.
    I guess in the long run I voted for an intelligent, reasonable guy that doesn’t go off half-cocked…and so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt until I see some reason not to.

  10. CB says:

    and not to get too alarmist, but lets not forget that our spectacular adventure in vietnam started with but a couple hundred advisors…

  11. Rob in CT says:

    Norm,

    This is an area in which I can get admittedly a bit rigid on principle. I’m very anti-interventionist. Even “successful” ones worry me, because of precedent. I think the success of Iraq I (which was measured & restrained, all things considered) really fed into the desire to “finish the job” and go for Iraq II. Whoops.

    I think we have to reserve judgment on Libya. Let’s not congratulate ourselves just yet (I like the Pulp Fiction version of this better).

    If 100 troops can go in, take down the LRA and come home relatively unscathed… hell, it’s hard to argue much with that. The scale is so small. In isolation, I don’t have a big issue w/it. Set in the grand scheme of US foreign policy, however, and it’s another data point in a worrying trend.

  12. Hey Norm says:

    Rob…
    You’re probably right…I’ll defer.

  13. john personna says:

    No one tweeted the Team America reference?

    Jobs?

  14. mattb says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    The LRA is a truly nasty organization and an example of how yes. Virginia, Islam is not the only religion that can be subverted to truly awful ends.

    And I for one look forward to the flood of comments drecrying the actions of the LRA from each and every one of those Christians who post here about how moderate Muslims never publicly condemn violence done in the name of Islam.

  15. Dave Schuler says:

    When the Super Committee fails in its task as it almost undoubtedly will under the terms of existing legislation a sequester will take place that cuts equal amounts from Defense and non-Defense discretionary spending to reach the budget target that was passed back in August. Wanna bet that rather than cutting military spending the law that would force the cuts is amended?

  16. Franklin says:

    @JKB: I came here to say Alfred Nobel was rolling over in his grave, but instead just decided to give you a rare thumb’s up.

  17. Scott F. says:

    @Rob in CT:

    But I don’t want to be interventionist nutbags, and that’s a big part of the reason I voted for Obama…
    But still, I’m frustrated. Apparently both parties have concluded that we ought to be Policeman of the World.

    This is what I find frustrating as well. Like you, I found Obama to be the least war-mongering choice available in 2008. (Viable choice I guess I should say, as Kucinich or Paul would qualify as lessor war-mongers, but you can count the number of primaries either of them won on NO hands.)

    I’m left to wonder, however, if the issue doesn’t go beyond the two parties. If non-interventionists can’t even get nominated, doesn’t that suggest that the more aggressive segments of the electorate hold more sway? If a reasonable, non-belligerent person becomes POTUS and then starts being militarily adventurous, doesn’t that suggest the national security apparatus influences decision making much more than we are allowed to see?

  18. PD Shaw says:

    I would particularly like to see Catholics and Anglicans, the primary victims of the LRA’s attrocities, appologize for these “Christian” actors.

  19. JKB says:

    @mattb:

    Well, mattb, I will be the first to condemn the LRA here. Although the claim of spiritual powers goes a long way to putting these lunatics outside any semblance of Christianity or Judaism (since their stated goal is a nation established on the 10 commandments).

    But if you would, please provide the locations of churches and synagogues outside the territory controlled by the LRA that preaches the LRA message, that provides succor and support to their active members and that wouldn’t help any of the child soldiers and concubines taken by the LRA to become deprogrammed and establish normal lives?

  20. matt says:

    Well this is kind of a kick in the pants since I’ve brought up the lord’s resistance army several times here as one of many Christian terrorist groups (usually in response to those here claiming that all Muslims are the same).

    I don’t understand JKB or PD Shaw’s point as most Muslims don’t support or preach the ways of AL Qaeda (how many mosques do they run?). Also just a FYI completely unrelated Muslims were also killed in the attacks on 9/11…

    Seriously the way you feel about these lunatics is how billions of Muslims feel about Al Qaeda…

  21. Ron Beasley says:

    @Dave Schuler: The cuts don’t kick in until 2013 – plenty of time for the military industrial complex to greas enough wheels to get it undone.

  22. mattb says:

    @PD Shaw
    A good point. Being killed by someone who claims to be a member of the same general religion is no excuse. First of all, in out meritorious world, clearly you should have done something different. Otherwise you deserved to be killed. And by getting killed by a member of that same religion, all your doing is helping demonstrate how violent it is.

    Ok.. far too much black sarcasm.

    As JKB nicely illustrates, the moment someone of your religion commits an atrocity, people are typically quick to discuss shades of grey and proper interpretation of texts. However, most other religions are taken as a single hegemonic unit where there can be only one type of follower (and usually the only way to be a “good” X is to promote violence).

    Beyond all of this, ditto what everyone else has said on the entire anti-interventionism.

  23. PD Shaw says:

    As suggested in some of the other recent threads on Mormonism, I don’t subscribe to subjective religious typologies, that a person or group belongs to a group simply because they say so. (Similar on political typologies) The LRA apparently sometimes describes itself as Muslim (apparently to get money from Muslims); I don’t think that makes them Muslim.

  24. mattb says:

    Rest assured, @PD Shaw none of my snark was directed at you. In fact, you have just articulated my POV beautifully.

  25. OzarkHillbilly says:

    To compare this to Iraq or Afghanistan (which let us admit it, many on the right want to compare Libya to…) is a joke. Let us compare this to something that is far more accurate: Columbia.

    We have been down there for years…. (long before Obama)

  26. ponce says:

    We’re not at war with anyone in Antarctica yet, are we?

  27. O. Ryan Faust says:

    @MBunge: Rush has been wrong about alot of late.

    It’s time for “Left” and “Right” to take a backseat to the corporate government and the corporate monopolies they’re sheltering.

    Rush should be on the side of the “occupy” movement, not opposed to it.

    I Googled “Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony”, and this guy is NOT a Christian. His dad was Catholic and he and his brother got involved in Voodoo and witchcraft. He’s a real bad guy.

    Rush was going off half-cocked calling this madman a “christian”.

  28. Jocelyn says:

    I have supported efforts to end this war for many years. Please take time to learn about this conflict and see what good can be done from this step made by the US.

    The LRA has committed atrocities to innocent civilians. This is who the LRA is: http://www­.invisible­children.c­om/videos/­28628155.

    Please go to lracrisist­racker.com to see what has been happening for over 25 years.

  29. Wayne says:

    The manner in which this was announced concerns me. Sending 100 troops in for a FID mission isn’t usually that newsworthy. It could be just a news crumb that was picked up or perhaps it is being used to prep people for planned further escalations of our involvement in the conflict. It wouldn’t be the first time “advisors” were used as a trip wire.

  30. John says:

    If anyone thinks after this announcement that there are only 100 U.S. soldiers involved, they are hopelessly naieve. In addition, the claim that they will only respond in self-defense is preposterous. Putting them there in the first plasce guarantees they will be attacked, so we are headed for another quagmire. Where are the combat support and combat service support troops fpr this operation located??

  31. Dazedandconfused says:

    3rd SF out of Bragg. Bunch of A-teams (Study and Observation, but mess with them, and…)

    Uganda has been busy fighting Al Shabaab in Somalia for us. They would be hard to refuse them for just a batch of Green Berets to come out and see if there is some way we can help them with the LRA. Be downright un-neighborly.

    Some here might want to look into fitting shock absorbers on those left knees.

  32. waltm says:

    Wonder if this will be another case of Duty to Protect becoming Not My Problem eventually.

  33. michael reynolds says:

    This is small and I believe will stay small. It’s the sort of thing the Royal Navy would have done with a single ship and a few marines back in the days of Empire. And yes, I do get the implication.

  34. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds: What I’m getting through back channels is that this is yet another case of a poor roll-off of a not-all-that-bad Obama foreign policy decision. More details once I’ve got something solid, but this looks to be more benign than the headlines and not an active combat mission.

  35. matt says:

    @PD Shaw: Now you’re just making stuff up.. Seriously they are the LORD’S resistance army not ALLAH’S resistance army…

    I Googled “Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony”, and this guy is NOT a Christian. His dad was Catholic and he and his brother got involved in Voodoo and witchcraft. He’s a real bad guy.

    True in my view they are no more Christian then Al Qaeda is Muslim…

  36. john personna says:

    My initial reaction was cynicism and dismay, because I’ve never wanted us to be world police. As people remind me how bad the LRA are, that feeling fades. It could be that sending ~100 is indeed the lesser evil in this case.

  37. PD Shaw says:

    @matt:” Now you’re just making stuff up.. Seriously they are the LORD’S resistance army not ALLAH’S resistance army…”

    I’d point you to the Wikipedia entry, but it looks like the entry is amdist a religious war, a virtual jihad. Basically, LRA gained the support of the neighboring Islamic government of Sudan, which influenced the LRA to incorporate Mulsim elements into its practices. Like I said, I don’t think the LRA is Muslim.

    When the leader of your army is a prophet from god, religious identity tends to be in flux, depending on military needs.

  38. mattb says:

    @PD Shaw & @matt:

    This is a case where the discussion page for Wikipedia may be far more helpful than the entry page in terms of demonstrating how contentious an issue this is (or rather how opportunistic the LRA has been in terms of gaining funding).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Lord's_Resistance_Army

    All that said, I think PD’s larger point, that I agree with, is that regardless of whether the LRA claims to be Muslim, Christian, or Buddhist or whatever, it is a fundamental mistake to assume that all members of that religion agree with their actions unless they immediately and publicly condemn them or/and are about to engage in similar actions given an opportunity.

  39. Wayne says:

    We have had troops in Uganda since at least the mid 90’s. The actual sending of 100 U.S. troops is not unusual. I am not necessary disagreeing with the deployment at the moment since I don’t know the intent or reason for doing so. It just seems odd on the way it was announced. When we expanded our presence in Djibouti or Somalia it was cover in the news a little but it wasn’t announce in this manner. Granted it could be my imagination or the administration decided to release information in a different manner for no reason. However it raises some red flags to me. I suspect we will be doing more than just training.

  40. matt says:

    @PD Shaw: You are correct the Wikipedia entry has been changed completely since this hit the news. It’s pretty obvious there’s some people out there who aren’t comfortable with acknowledging that there are terrorists out there that call themselves Christians cause “only Muslims are terrorists”. What cracks me up is most people miss the fact that Muslims and Christians are already worshiping a similar religion due to both being Abrahamic religions that lay claim to some of the same prophets while being developed relatively in the same era. From my perspective the two religions are just squabbling over minor details..

  41. dennis says:

    Damn. We just have to be in everybody’s kool-aid, don’t we?

  42. mattb says:

    @matt:

    From my perspective the two religions are just squabbling over minor details.

    No offense, but regardless if you are a Christian, a Muslim or an atheist (or anything else), this is a huge reduction.

    Simply put, the exact nature of Christ’s divinity and the issue of the resurrection cannot be considered a “minor” detail when teasing apart the three great Abrahamic religions. It is critical theological distinction with allows no real wiggle room — because to accept the text of the new testament as belief based fact — is to fundamentally reject (or at the very least contradict) the religious texts that came later. Likewise adopting the suppositions from either the other Talmudic or Koranic texts fundamentally invalidates the fundamental principle of all Christian belief.

  43. Wayne says:

    @Matt
    Our perspective of what is important means little. It is that in which is important to those who insist on fighting that needs to be address. Addressing it is not by any means the same as giving them what they want. Calling them silly, stupid, non Christian, non Muslim, etc will not stop them from killing.

    Trying to convince someone that what they are fighting for or what they use to identify themselves as being silly will almost always end in a dead road. It will usually cause them to dig in further and ruin any rapport you have with them. Convincing them to stop killing will become that much harder.

  44. matt says:

    @mattb:

    From my perspective the two religions are just squabbling over minor details.

    I’m well aware of the differences but since I have no skin in the game it’s all minor stuff to me..

  45. mattb says:

    @matt:
    While I think I understand what you’re saying — and on some level appreciate it — I hope you realize that it’s also one of the most dangerous and condescending of dodges.

    Regardless of your perspective, an effort must be taken to understand the sides and stakes of a given argument (or out and out war). That’s not to say you have to agree with any of the positions… but calling something like that “minor” diminishes the real differences and becomes a rhetorical tool for making all parties involved (except for you) seem irrational.

  46. matt says:

    @mattb: Well that’s just it I view religion to generally be very irrational especially the Abrahamic ones.

    I will concede that such a belief is not conducive to solving the current problem with the LRA. I will also concede that I do not have a simple solution for the issue that would be considered acceptable by society.