President Obama's announcement last week that he was deploying 100 U.S. military advisers to Central Africa to help forces there trying to kill or capture Lord's Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony was the latest and largest step in an ongoing campaign to address the conflict in the region.
Administration officials insist there wasn't a specific impetus that prompted Obama to make the decision; deploying military personnel has been in the works for some time, they said.
But the rhetoric pointing to such a decision has been voiced in recent days.
"We're hopeful here in the very near future to be able to increase the number of U.S. military advisers and trainers" in the region, General Carter Ham, the commander of U.S. Africa Command, said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Oct. 4. Ham also said, "If you ever had any question that there is evil in this world, it is resident in the person of Joseph Kony and in that organization."
The Bush administration started providing the Ugandan military with logistical support and training in late 2008 after Kony refused to sign a peace agreement with Uganda, said Paul Ronan, the director of advocacy at Resolve, a non-profit organization trying to end the LRA conflict.
The State Department continued to offer some aid to regional forces trying to stop the LRA, and the movement gained momentum with the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009, which easily passed through Congress with bipartisan support and was signed by Obama in May 2010. It appropriated more than $20 million to communities impacted by the conflict, but, perhaps more importantly, showed Obama there was support for greater engagement in the region and encouraged the administration to come up with a broader strategy that included both advising regional militaries and protecting local citizens, Ronan said.
That's what the roughly 100 military personnel will be doing, said Ronan, who attended a White House briefing with senior administration officials on Friday about the announcement.
Resolve and other non-profit organizations that focus on the conflict have welcomed the announcement, but said they would like to see further efforts at civilian protection and that the United States needs to make sure that the recommendations the advisers compile are implemented.
"Our perspective is 'great job,' but let's not take our foot off the gas pedal," Ronan said.
The administration, meanwhile, is stressing that the U.S. forces, while combat-equipped, are not there to partake in the fighting.
"These advisers will work with our regional partners and the African Union in the field to strengthen information-sharing, enhance coordination and planning, and improve the overall effectiveness of military operations and the protection of civilians," Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokesperson, said in a statement on Friday. "These advisers will not engage LRA forces unless necessary for self-defense."