WASHINGTON — The United States has dispatched a small group of U.S. troops to central Africa to help hunt down the elusive leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, a cultlike force that has been terrorizing Uganda and other nations, President Barack Obama told Congress in a letter Friday.
Obama stressed that the U.S. troops, who started arriving in Uganda on Wednesday, will only provide support to African forces that are trying to capture Lord's Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony and won't engage in combat unless they're attacked. The force will number about 100.
"In furtherance of the Congress' stated policy, I have authorized a small number of combat-equipped U.S. forces to deploy to central Africa to provide assistance to regional forces that are working toward the removal of Joseph Kony from the battlefield," the president wrote.
"Although the U.S. forces are combat-equipped, they will only be providing information, advice and assistance to partner nation forces, and they will not themselves engage LRA forces unless necessary for self-defense. All appropriate precautions have been taken to ensure the safety of U.S. military personnel during their deployment."
Obama called the dispatch of combat troops necessary to "U.S. national security interests and foreign policy."
The White House sought to downplay the surprise deployment, releasing the letter in an e-mail to reporters. There was no public statement from the president, who was speaking about trade at a Michigan auto plant. The White House stressed that the deployment is a continuation of work already under way to support the African fight against the Lord's Resistance Army under a 2010 act of Congress.
"I have witnessed firsthand the devastation caused by the LRA, and this will help end Kony's heinous acts that have created a human rights crisis in Africa," said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. He added that "today's action offers hope that the end of the LRA is in sight."
The Lord's Resistance Army has wreaked havoc in central Africa for two decades, killing tens of thousands — 2,400 since 2008, according to the State Department. More than 380,000 people have fled their homes across the region because of the violence.
The International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, indicted Kony, who is thought to be operating in South Sudan and the northern parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on war crimes charges in 2005.
The United States has spent about $40 million since 2008 providing equipment, logistical support and training to African forces that are fighting the Lord's Resistance Army, according to State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
The deployment of troops increases that commitment.
A second group of U.S. troops will arrive later this month. They will include a combat-equipped team and additional troops to handle communications and logistics.
The troops will be deployed into parts of Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.