The Twittersphere is all abuzz this afternoon as word broke that the Obama Administration has informed Congress that it is sending roughly 100 U.S. troops to the Great Lakes region to help end the threat of the Lord’s Resistance Army. In a letter to the Speaker of the House and President Pro-Tempore of the Senate, President Obama laid out the mission of these forces:
In furtherance of the Congress’s 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. I believe that deploying these U.S. Armed Forces furthers U.S. national security interests and foreign policy and will be a significant contribution toward counter-LRA efforts in central Africa.
On October 12, the initial team of U.S. military personnel with appropriate combat equipment deployed to Uganda. During the next month, additional forces will deploy, including a second combat-equipped team and associated headquarters, communications, and logistics personnel. The total number of U.S. military personnel deploying for this mission is approximately 100. These forces will act as advisors to partner forces that have the goal of removing from the battlefield Joseph Kony and other senior leadership of the LRA. Our forces will provide information, advice, and assistance to select partner nation forces. Subject to the approval of each respective host nation, elements of these U.S. forces will deploy into Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The support provided by U.S. forces will enhance regional efforts against the LRA. However, 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.
The bloggers of the world quickly sprung into action, providing the curious masses, many of whom had no idea why anything with “Lord” in it could be such a bad thing, with a year’s worth of reading on the background of the LRA, and the history of calls for intervention in the region to help take it down and the opposing arguments. While the initial confusion over the move has calmed down, as sending off military advisors in this fashion is relatively common, there is still no consensus on how effective these troops will be in lessening the threat of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The LRA most certainly qualifies as the worst of the armed groups that plague the African continent, with their atrocities putting the Janjaweed and FDLR to shame in sheer brazenness. Their leader Joseph Kony has been indicted by the International Criminal Court over his actions in Uganda, with Kony managing to evade arrest for decades now.
What has me curious, though, is determining if and how these U.S. advisors will interact with the UN peacekeeping missions currently on the ground. Of the four states listed in the President’s letter, two of them, the DRC and South Sudan, have United Nations blue helmets deployed inside their borders. The United Nations Mission to South Sudan was approved in July of this year, to aid in supporting the development of the soon-to-be newest member of the UN help tamp down on the fighting in the border region between the newly separated states of Sudan and South Sudan. The LRA has been taken its rape and pillage tour through the area for years, leading the Security Council to include language about the force in the authorizing resolution, S/RES/1996, particularly in Operative Clause 15:
15. Calls upon UNMISS to coordinate with the Government of the Republic of South Sudan and participate in regional coordination and information mechanisms to improve protection of civilians and support disarmament, demobilization and reintegration efforts in light of the attacks by the LRA in the Republic of South Sudan and requests the Secretary General to include in his UNMISS trimesterly reports a summary of cooperation and information sharing between UNMISS, the African Union/United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), and regional and international partners in addressing the LRA threats;
The peacekeeping mission operative in the DRC, MONUSCO, which took over for MONUC in June of this year is the largest peacekeeping force that the UN has ever put together. Helping keep the peace in the largest country in Africa has proved to be a substantial challenge in the years after the Great African War, enough so that over 20,000 blue helmets have been authorized to take part in the most recent mission. Despite the size of the mission, the size of the state, twice that of France, has proved to be much more advantageous to Joseph Kony’s crew, granting them the ability to slip in and out of the country without much to-do, allowing them to continue to spread terror through the entirety of the region.
Both missions are enacted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, and call for the use of any means necessary to enact their mandates, the phrase that authorizes the use of force. The fact that both mandates specifically call out the LRA as a threat to international peace and security gives a strong indication of just how seriously the UN and US take the LRA, despite being only approximately 250 individuals in strength.
So with the enormity of the combined missions, which are called upon to coordinate between themselves when it comes to the LRA in SC/Res/1925, the infusion of 100 US advisors could be crucial. Who these advisors will be answering to and how precisely they’ll serve the region isn’t exactly clear from this letter. It’s obvious that they won’t be serving under anyone but a U.S. military officer, but I wonder what mechanisms they’ll have in place to determine which of the several host governments they’ll be offering their expertise to will take precedence. The U.S. has, for the record sent forces to both missions: precisely one military advisor to take MONUSCO and 4 police officers to UNMISS.
The United Nations isn’t mentioned anywhere in the President’s letter, so it doesn’t seem to have been on the mind of whomever in the White House drafted it. It should be on their mind, though. The UNMISS and MONUSCO both have large amounts of forces dedicated to keeping the peace and protecting civilians, particularly against the LRA, and the addition of U.S. logistical help would be a boon to the strapped missions. Also, as Laura Seay points out, the LRA operates in some of the least-governed areas of the world’s weakest states. To have the UN’s support in such places in someways would be better than having that of the host-governments.
The Obama Administration has made working multilaterally one of the lynchpins of their foreign policy, particularly through international institutions, and now would be an ideal time to continue that trend. I’m not advocating integrating these U.S. troops into the missions, but rather sharing information and capabilities when possible. The UNSC approval granted to the missions would also provide a greater amount of legitimacy to the U.S. deployment. It’s clear that the U.S. has arranged for this beforehand with the involved local governments, but coordinating with the UN would bolster the effectiveness of the UN missions and serve as a way to share information and ability with the four states in question. Ignoring the UN’s presence in the region at best would make the overall mission more difficult, at worst add to confusion at an unfortunate time.