By Barbara Starr
In a sign of a potentially expanded role for U.S. special forces in Africa, the Pentagon is considering sending V-22 Osprey aircraft to a base in Uganda for American and African forces to use in assaults on The Lord's Resistance Army, a messianic group led by Joseph Kony, a warlord African forces are trying to capture with the help of the United States.
The V-22, which takes off like a helicopter and flies like an airplane, would increase the distance ground forces can operate, and transport them to targets faster than conventional helicopters, said two U.S. military officials who confirmed details to CNN.
Special forces commanders are making the case the operation needs more mobility than a small number of conventional helicopters can provide currently.
At the same time, the role of U.S. special forces in the Kony hunt has been expanded under a new authorization approved by the White House, both officials said.
By Larry Shaughnessy
CNN Pentagon Producer
The Arab Spring of revolution has given rise to a new summer of concern in North Africa.
While Moammar Gadhafi is gone, the weapons used by the rebels who overthrew him are now a threat to the whole region, according to Amanda Dory, a top Defense Department policy official on Africa.
"The breakdown of security in Libya has generated a significant flow of militants and weapons and has decreased legitimate cross-border traffic at a time of great economic fragility and turbulence," said Dory, the deputy assistant secretary of defense on African affairs.
Many of those weapons, the Pentagon fears, are ending up with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) the branch of the terrorist network in North Africa, especially in Mali, which in recent months has seen a coup and a separatist effort.
The al Qaeda affiliate "continues to increase its activities, including collecting large sums of money through kidnapping for ransom schemes," Dory said Monday. The Department of Defense "is closely watching what this will mean for the stability of the region and the ability of AQIM to target partner and U.S. interests."
Beyond Libya and Mali, the Defense Department is also active in the effort to hunt down the Lord's Resistance Army, a group that's been terrorizing central Africa and has for years kidnapped children and turned them into soldiers.
"Regional governments clearly have the lead in the effort to counter" the Lord's Resistance Army, Dory said. "They're the ones who are ultimately responsible for ending the LRA threat and protecting local communities. And the United States is seeking to help them in these responsibilities."
Some 100 U.S. troops, mostly Special Forces, are in Africa working to stop the LRA.
By Jamie Crawford
Capturing and bringing to justice the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, a group terrorizing a large portion of central Africa, will be a challenge, officials from the Obama administration told a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday.
Speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on African affairs, officials on Tuesday said the task of stopping Joseph Kony is complicated by the region's vast and inhospitable terrain, along with the difficulty of coordinating the efforts of four partner nations' armies and gathering and sharing intelligence.
"Ending the LRA threat is not an easy mission," said Donald Yamamoto, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs. "The LRA operates in very small groups across vast territories, roughly the size of California and very heavily forested."
Since being pushed out of its previous stronghold in Northern Uganda in 2006, Kony and his lieutenants have been accused of continuing their abduction of children to serve as LRA soldiers in a campaign of rape, torture and murder across central Africa.
By National Security Producer Jamie Crawford
The current mission deploying approximately 100, mainly U.S. special forces to Africa will be "short term" and not open-ended in nature, Obama administration officials told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Tuesday.
"We don't have a specific timetable, we are talking I think months, but I wouldn't put a number on it at this point," Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow told committee members.
President Barack Obama notified Congress earlier this month about the mission, as required under the War Powers Act. The U.S. troops are serving in a mostly advisory role to forces from Uganda, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic to assist them in dismantling the notorious Lord's Resistance Army and hunt down its elusive leader, Joseph Kony. The group has terrorized central Africa through its abduction of children to serve as soldiers in a campaign of rape, pillaging and murder over two decades.
While the mission does not call for the U.S. troops to engage in direct combat operations, they are carrying weapons to be used in self-defense should the need arise, which triggered the requirement to notify Congress of their deployment.
By Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr
President Obama’s decision to send 100 troops, mainly U.S. Special Forces, to Uganda to help hunt down leaders of the violent Lord’s Resistance Army is not meant to be a combat mission. But the troops will be well equipped if the need to fight arises, them CNN has learned. The troops will have so-called “crew-served” weapons in the field. These weapons, unlike a rifle or machine gun, requires more than one person to operate them, such as one person loading ammunition while the other person aims and fires.
The deployment of these particular combat weapons triggered the need for the Obama administration to publicly notify Congress of the operation under the War Powers Resolution, according to a Department of defense official. That requirement demands that any time troops are put into a country “equipped for combat” Congress must be told to avoid any prospect of a secret war, the official explained.
Also, in this case, the US trainers were given a specific mission of helping target Joseph Kony, the head of the Lords Resistance Army, rather than just generalized counterterrorism and field training.
The official confirmed that Uganda had asked for the troops several months ago, but no Special Forces unit was available until now.
The US military has had a longstanding relationship in helping train Ugandan forces and attempting to help target Kony. In December 2008, a 17-man team of military advisors and intelligence advisors from the U.S. Africa Command helped plan and provide intelligence to go after Kony, according to a US military official. That mission failed after two weeks.