U.S. Africa Command is set to begin a new security assistance program in East Africa that aims to bolster the ability of Uganda's military to fight the Lord's Resistance Army, a rebel group that for more than 20 years has terrorized civilians.
Congress has lifted a hold it placed earlier this month on a Defense Department proposal to begin a new program to provide Ugandan defense forces with counterterrorism training and equipment, according to Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. James Gregory.
The project, part of a second batch of so-called Section 1206 security assistance programs drawn up by the Defense and State departments, is designed to "provide communications and intelligence training as well as communications and engineering equipment to improve Uganda's ability to remove LRA leadership and fighters from the battlefield," according to Gregory. The project has a price tag of $4.4 million, he said.
During testimony before Congress this spring, Gen. Carter Ham, commander of AFRICOM, singled out the Lord's Resistance Army as a "scourge" and an example of a transnational extremist threat to security on the continent. "In order for Africa Command to reduce threats to our citizens and interests, both abroad and at home, we need to contribute to operations, programs and activities that help African states provide for their own security in a manner that is consistent with the rule of law and international norms," Ham told the House Armed Services Committee on April 5.
In May 2010, the President Obama signed into law the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009, which required that the executive branch draw up a strategy to support multilateral efforts to protect civilians from the LRA, to apprehend or remove the LRA leader Joseph Kony, and to disarm and demobilize LRA fighters.
On Nov. 24, 2010, Obama transmitted the strategy to lawmakers with a letter explaining that it would guide "U.S. support across the region to mitigate and eliminate the threat to civilians and regional stability posed by the Lord's Resistance Army." The strategy consists of four objectives, one of which is to "apprehend or remove from the battlefield Joseph Kony and senior commanders."
A State Department assessment on Uganda calls the Lord's Resistance Army, which aims to overthrow the East African country's government, "vicious and cult-like." Between 1986 and 2006 the group is believed to have kidnapped thousands of children to serve as soldiers and slaves, according to the State Department. Its primary targets are civilians, especially women and children, according to a Congressional Research Service report. "Human rights abuses committed by the LRA include murder, mutilation, abduction of young women for sexual servitude, and kidnapping of children to become rebel fighters," according to the State Department.
In 2005, the Ugandan forces drove the LRA out of the country. Since then, the rebel group has operated from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Southern Sudan and the Central African Republic and is responsible for displacing nearly 2 million people, according to the State Department. For more than two years the governments of Uganda, Congo and Southern Sudan have waged joint military operations against the LRA in northeastern Congo.
Earlier this month, the Pentagon was cleared by Congress to spend as much as $123.3 million on similar projects in Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Uganda, Burundi, Oman, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Maldives and the Philippines (DefenseAlert, July 19).
Those projects, along with the new Uganda security assistance effort and a first batch of 1206 efforts to enhance the capabilities of Eastern European nations preparing to deploy to Afghanistan begun in April, require $159.3 million, comprising nearly half of the available funds for such programs -- which are very popular with combatant commanders -- in this fiscal year.
The FY-11 Defense Authorization Act granted $350 million for Section 1206 projects, including $75 million for stability operations. Congress, which first authorized Section 1206 projects in FY-06, permits spending on these programs for two purposes: to enhance partner nations' counterterrorism and stability operations and bolster foreign maritime security forces for counterterrorism. -- Jason Sherman