Voice of America (Washington, DC)

7 November 2013

Central Africa: Capturing Ugandan Rebel Leader Joseph Kony a U.S. Interest

Photo: RNW
Lord's Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony (file photo)

Pentagon — U.S. military planners continue their discussions on a possible of expansion of efforts in Africa to capture the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, Joseph Kony.

In the minds of millions of Americans -- especially young people -- the online film "Kony 2012" brought home Joseph Kony's campaign of kidnappings, mass killings, rapes, and the forced conscription of tens of thousands of child soldiers.

The film went viral.

Two years before its release, in a rare bipartisan move, the U.S. Congress unanimously approved legislation to stop Kony's "Lord's Resistance Army," or "LRA." President Obama later ordered 100 U.S. special forces troops to central Africa to help train and equip the Ugandan military and others to go after Kony and his campaign of terror.

The LRA's numbers are dwindling and the group does not pose a threat to U.S. national security.

But Ben Keesey, the head of Invisible Children -- the activist group that made the film -- says in a Skype interview he believes deploying U.S. forces is proper use of American military power.

"As one citizen of the country, I absolutely think it's in what I would define as our national interest to stand on the side of moral justice in the worst crimes against humanity."

The sentiments that touch millions of young Americans -- including President Obama's own daughter, who reportedly has spoken to her father about the LRA -- bolster the administration's decision to deploy troops and perhaps expand the force.

But the policy is not being driven by sentimental reasons alone. While the LRA is not a direct threat to the U.S., it does threaten Uganda -- a key U.S. partner.

J. Peter Pham is an Africa analyst at the Atlantic Council research group in Washington, who says the real aim is to help Uganda.

"I think a great deal of it is what inspires a great many of Americans to be passionately engaged, but deep down it's also a calculus. If we expect Uganda to deploy seven, eight thousand peacekeepers in a place that's very important to us like Somalia, they can't be doing that if they've got a a threat literally [at] the back door, in the backyard in northern Uganda because of the LRA."

Uganda has lost thousands of soldiers in its regional efforts against militants in Somalia -- a conflict where the U.S. has direct interests but no intention to deploy its own troops.

In the U.S. calculus, supporting Uganda in its fight against the LRA is a small price.

Discussions have been under way to expand the mission and there has been talk of building an air base in Uganda -- a move that would have meant a significant boost in the number of U.S. personnel deployed.

The Pentagon says there are currently no plans for such a base.

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