- March 24, 2014
- News & Analysis
Late last night, the Washington Post broke the news that the Obama Administration has announced the temporary deployment of at least four CV-22 “Osprey” aircraft in support of counter-LRA operations being conducted by African Union troops and US military advisers. The Ospreys will be based in Uganda, but will be used in operations in eastern Central African Republic (CAR) and other LRA-affected areas. Reports indicate that the Ospreys, normally based in Djibouti, will be made available periodically for support to counter-LRA operations. To comply with the War Powers Act, President Obama will formally notify Congress of the decision because the US personnel needed to operate and maintain the Ospreys will raise the number of forces deployed on the counter-LRA mission beyond the ceiling of 100 he announced in October 2011.
The deployment, in the works since late last year, signals renewed US commitment to the LRA mission and fills a critical gap on the ground. While the US funds private contractors to operate approximately four helicopters for counter-LRA operations, US and African Union troops still face significant mobility constraints in the field. Currently, shortages in airlift often prevent troops from responding to multiple reports of LRA movements at once, limiting their ability to protect civilians from imminent attack and capitalize on timely intelligence related to the movements of senior LRA commanders.
In addition, existing helicopters have relatively restricted flight ranges. The Ospreys could help US and Ugandan troops based in southeastern CAR to respond to LRA activity in areas of further west and north in CAR that are otherwise difficult for them to reach. Senior LRA officers, including Kony, frequently operate in the CAR prefectures of Haut Kotto and Mbomou and conduct large-scale attacks on Central African civilians there with relative impunity. As our recent LRA Crisis Tracker report observed, the LRA’s largest and most brutal attacks in the past year have occurred in those areas, and the Ospreys may help address that.
The deployment comes at a sensitive time in US-Uganda relations. Though the Ospreys are deployed in support of an African Union effort, they will be based in Uganda and likely used to transport Ugandan forces more than any others. Following the passage of Uganda’s odious Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) last month, the Administration announced it was conducting an internal review of its relationship with the Ugandan government, with the understanding it would cut or alter some foreign aid to demonstrate support for human rights in Uganda.
Administration officials insisted that the deployment of the Ospreys, announced before the internal review is completed, would not undermine the review process. They simultaneously announced several initial measures in response to the AHA, including shifting tourism-promotion funds away from the Ugandan government and moving Department of Defense events scheduled to take place in Uganda to other locations.
As we recently posted, the AHA is not only a clear attack on the human rights of LGBTI individuals, it’s part of a very disturbing pattern of actions taken in recent years by President Museveni’s ruling National Resistance Movement party to repress the political opposition, minorities, civil society groups, and human rights defenders in Uganda. The Administration should include regional security assistance to Uganda in the internal review, and ensure that collaboration with the Ugandan military on counter-LRA operations and other regional security issues does not prevent a strong diplomatic response that seeks to reverse restrictions of LGBTI rights and halt Uganda’s slide into authoritarianism. The responses to the AHA announced by the Administration are important first steps, but more engagement will certainly be needed. We’ll post more analysis on this delicate balancing act later this week.