August 19, 2009:
American troops and civilians are going to Africa to provide assistance to the many women who have been victims of rape, and other war related violence. The U.S. Congress has been trying to get AFRICOM to do something about the wars and violence in Africa. Last month, Congress tried to persuade AFRICOM to send some troops, especially Special Forces, to Africa, to go after the elusive Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA (Lords Resistance Army). Kony and his henchmen have torn apart northern Uganda, by turning teenagers into deadly gunmen, and enslaving children and adults as a support force. Kony has been at it for over twenty years. His tactics have killed over 100,000 people, and turned several hundred thousand into refugees. The Ugandans eventually drove him out of Uganda. But now Kony and a few hundred followers are ravaging eastern Congo. No one can seem to catch him, and his having been declared an international war criminal has made peace talks with him impossible.
U.S. AFRICOM (Africa Command), which is similar in organization to other American regional commands (Central, for the Middle East, and South, for Latin America, etc), was established two years ago. It coordinates all American military operations in Africa. Before that, those operations were coordinated between two commands (the one covering Europe and the one covering the Middle East, with some help from the one handling Latin America ). The establishment of AFRICOM means more money for counter-terror operations in Africa, and more long range projects. But many members of Congress are under pressure from constituents to do something about all the suffering in Africa.
AFRICIM sees its mission as aiding African armed forces with training, advice and small grants of weapons and equipment. But Congress is aware that, in the past, small numbers of professional troops have gone in and quickly eliminated outfits like LRA. For example, in 2005, Britain sent in a few hundred commandos to shut down some holdout rebel groups in Sierra Leone. That worked. But the U.S. Army is reluctant to divert any of its counter-terrorism forces for an African pacification mission. Such an operation would require a lot of aircraft support, and other troops to establish bases.
One thing African nations most want from AFRICOM are military and counter-terrorism trainers. AFRICOM does what it can, and that means moving small groups of people, and their equipment, around a large continent with few major, and lots of minor, airports. This is accomplished via a contractor (the Phoenix Air Group) fleet of light transports. These aircraft could be employed to deal with some of the anti-LRA operation. But the United States would also have to get permission from the Congo government. The LRA could also flee to Sudan, where getting permission to allow U.S. troops in would be much more difficult.
Africa is the poorest continent on the planet. African troops are also poorly trained, equipped and led. AFRICOM has a lot of work to do, and a lot of criticism if the troops it trains are later used to stage a coup, or support another dictatorship. Sending in American troops to deal with an elusive brigand is also fraught with complications. It's a thankless task.