25 Oct 2011 By KATE BRANNEN DefenseNews
While the Pentagon has yet to give a specific timeline or cost for the deployment of U.S. troops to Uganda, the mission will likely take months and cost tens of millions of dollars, not hundred of millions, according to a top DoD official.
"This is a short-term deployment with specific goals and objectives," Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, assistant secretary for international security affairs at the Pentagon, told lawmakers Oct. 25. "If we do not believe our collective efforts are resulting in significant progress, we will not continue this deployment."
Vershbow, along with Ambassador Don Yamamoto, principal deputy assistant secretary for African affairs at the State Department, appeared before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs to explain the White House's Oct. 14 decision to deploy U.S. troops to help in the fight against the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).
The LRA, led by Joseph Kony, has been pushed out of Uganda, but operates in small groups across the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan. The group is accused of widespread atrocities throughout the region, including murder, rape and kidnapping.
Lawmakers voiced their support for the mission's goals, but wanted to know the cost, scope and duration of the U.S. operation.
Roughly 100 troops, primarily U.S. Army Special Forces, will deploy to the region to work as advisers, Vershbow said.
"Although approximately 100 personnel will ultimately deploy for this mission, we expect that only a portion of those personnel will directly advise and assist the forces in the field pursuing the LRA," he said.
The bulk of personnel will be located in Uganda carrying out logistical and other functions to support small teams of forward-deployed advisers.
For now, the operation will be funded through regular DoD operations and maintenance accounts, Vershbow said, apologizing to the panel for not having more specific cost information, but estimating a price tag in the tens of millions not hundreds of millions of dollars.
Vershbow was also unable to give a specific timeline, but estimated that U.S. forces would be there for a matter of months. He also said that in a few months, the Pentagon and the State Department would assess the effectiveness of the mission before deciding to commit longer.
While the goal is to capture or kill Kony and destroy the LRA, it is possible U.S. forces will leave before that is achieved, leaving it to the regional forces to keep fighting on their own, Vershbow said.
According to DoD, there are roughly 200 core LRA fighters with another 800 or so followers.
Lawmakers also wanted to know about the exit strategy and how the administration would measure success.
The first criteria would be whether regional forces trained by the United States have successfully apprehended or removed top LRA commanders, including Kony, Vershbow said. It will also be important for the regional forces to facilitate large numbers of defections from the group and reduce the number of LRA attacks.
More broadly, the United States wants to professionalize the African troops so that they "can conduct effective military operations against the LRA and better protect their citizens," Vershbow said.
Meanwhile, U.S. forces will not engage the LRA unless necessary for self-defense.
Instead of directly engaging the LRA, U.S. forces will train Ugandan and other regional forces to acquire and process actionable intelligence on the location of LRA leaders, helping them to quickly turn that intelligence into operational plans.
To answer the "why now" question, Vershbow said, the "timing of this deployment was predicated in part upon the availability of the appropriate U.S. forces."
Members of the House panel had conflicting feelings about sending U.S. troops to the region. On the one hand, they voiced support for the takedown of Kony and the LRA. However, some said they are concerned that the White House may be going to war without the proper authorization of Congress.
Congress has passed the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, which the president signed into law in May 2010. That bill required the president to develop a strategy to deal with the LRA and directed the government to "provide political, economic, military and intelligence support for viable multilateral efforts to protect civilians, apprehend or eliminate top LRA commanders, and disarm and demobilize remaining LRA fighters."
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., issued a statement of support for the White House's decision, saying, this is not a War Powers Act issue, because the 100 U.S. troops will not be engaged in combat. "This is not a Libya," he said.