U.S. soldiers with Ugandan military personnel at an air base in Entebbe, Uganda, on Dec. 6
The deployment of 100 U.S. special operations forces to Central Africa in October 2011 is an important moment in foreign military support for Uganda, but for the U.S. military it is a relatively low-cost operation with great potential for success. More important for the United States, the deployment offers an opportunity for U.S. Africa Command to further its goals in the region, including those in South Sudan and Somalia.
It has been five months since 100 U.S. special operations forces were deployed to Uganda, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan to advise Central African forces in combat against the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) militant group. The stated goal of the October 2011 deployment was to increase the tempo and efficacy of those countries' operations against the LRA.
The special operations deployment is the largest and most sophisticated military deployment of U.S. forces to Uganda to date. While the deployment represents important foreign military support for Uganda, for the U.S. military it is a relatively low-cost operation with great potential for success. More important for Washington, the operation presents an opportunity for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) to make political and intelligence gains in East Africa, the Great Lakes region and the greater Horn region, including countering China's increasing influence in the area.
Limited Threat of the LRA
Created in 1987, the LRA is a Christian resistance movement of the ethnic Acholi people, who hail from northern Uganda and southern South Sudan. Though once of great concern to governments in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa, primarily Uganda, the LRA exists today as a low-level insurgency. The LRA is estimated to have only 200-300 fighters, and the group sustains itself by recruiting child soldiers during unsophisticated raids with machetes on villages in northwestern Uganda and the nearby corners of South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Since the administration of President George W. Bush, the United States has contributed modest financial assistance, counterterrorism advisers and technical trainers to help Uganda in its operations against the LRA. Last October, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that U.S. special operations forces would be deployed to help Ugandan and other regional forces combat the LRA through AFRICOM. The announcement was not controversial, but Stratfor believed that the United States had exaggerated the threat posed by the LRA.
Though the United States is hardly concerned about the threat of the LRA, the rebels have been a constant threat in northern Uganda. The administration of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has repeatedly tried, without success, to eliminate the group. While the Museveni administration has significantly reduced the LRA's area of operations in Uganda, the group has continued its attacks in the northwestern extremes of the country and in the territory of Uganda's northeastern neighbors. With the help of AFRICOM, Uganda and other countries in the region have a chance to further reduce the LRA's area of operations.
Established in 2006 by the Bush administration and based in Stuttgart, Germany, AFRICOM is primarily intended to help African security forces build up their capabilities to handle regional security issues. To complete its mission, AFRICOM needs stable African partners with access to areas of instability. Having such a partner is especially important at a time when the international community and pan-African groups are calling for African-based initiatives to solve African problems. A committed political partner such as Uganda can legitimize and complement U.S. initiatives in Africa.