WASHINGTON, March 23 (Reuters) – The Obama administration is sending about 150 Special Operations troops along with military aircraft to Uganda to help in the search for warlord Joseph Kony, the Pentagon said on Sunday.
The deployments started on Sunday night after the administration began to notify Congress. The decision was first reported by The Washington Post, and later confirmed by the Defense Department.
In the first deployment of U.S. military aircraft to Uganda to help locate Kony, at least four CV-22 Osprey aircraft will arrive in the country by midweek, together with refueling planes and Special Operations forces airmen to fly and maintain them, the Pentagon said.
U.S. personnel were authorized to “provide information, advice and assistance” to an African Union force tracking Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army, the Post reported.
“While combat-equipped, they are prohibited from engaging LRA forces unless in self-defense,” it said.
The Ospreys, which can take off and land vertically, are capable of ferrying 24 troops and their gear. They are expected to help African Union forces respond more quickly to tips on Kony’s whereabouts, the Pentagon said.
A 5,000-strong AU Regional Task Force, supported by about 100 U.S. Special Forces, has been hunting Kony and his fighters. Most of them are thought to be hiding in jungles straddling the borders of Central African Republic, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo.
LRA fighters, who emerged in northern Uganda in the late 1980s, are known for using extreme violence, including chopping off limbs as a form of punishment, as well as raping young girls and abducting them for use as sex slaves.
The Post quoted administration officials as saying the deployment did not signal the White House was weakening its criticism of new anti-gay legislation in Uganda that imposes harsh penalties for homosexuality.
Since last month’s enactment of the anti-gay legislation, Washington has said it is reviewing its relationship with Uganda’s government. (Reporting by Peter Cooney and David Alexander; Editing by Eric Walsh)