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.
This past summer, U.S. troops were authorized for the first time to go on missions in the field with Ugandan and other African forces.
This means after two years of largely advising and assisting African troops where they are based, U.S. forces are now flying on helicopters and providing direct ground support to African units.
But U.S. forces are not allowed to go on patrol where they believe they may see combat and they are only permitted to fire in self-defense.
But as one official said, even with those rules, "you never really know when you are going to encounter combat."
The possibility of sending V-22s was first reported by the Washington Post. No decision has been made, officials said.
Military officials said the Kony mission is just one example of the growing role of special forces in remote or politically sensitive areas of the world where conventional large combat units are impractical.
The recent raids in Libya by the Army's Delta force and in Somalia by Navy SEALs, along with the Kony mission are the most visible indicators of this trend, officials said.
Another option would be to simply send more Army Black Hawk transport helicopters.
Any additional deployments would effectively double the size of the U.S. force already there, which is about 100 troops.
U.S. troops are mainly based in Uganda, although a small number operate out of a remote area in the Central African Republic.
Some V-22 aircraft on their way back to the United States from Afghanistan were expected to be diverted to Africa for the Kony mission, but it was scrubbed due to aircraft maintenance scheduling issues.