Obama administration officials faced a sometimes skeptical audience Tuesday as they briefed lawmakers in public for the first time on President Obama’s deployment of 100 Special Forces troops to Africa to help track down one of the continent’s most notorious warlords.
Alexander Vershbow, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, told a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that the operation targeting Joseph Kony and top commanders of the Uganda-based Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) would not be subject to mission creep.
“We will not go on indefinitely,” Mr. Vershbow said. “We will pull back, and we hope [regional allied forces] will be able to continue with this training and finish the job.”
But Mr. Vershbow and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Don Yamamoto said they could not offer specifics for a timetable or costs to American taxpayers. Mr. Vershbow told the committee that “we’re talking months” for the U.S. deployment and the cost can be expected to be in the “tens of millions of dollars.”
LRA rebels are accused of terrorizing, killing, raping and kidnapping thousands of people while destabilizing governments including those of Uganda, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is estimated that 80 percent of the LRA forces are made up of child soldiers, abducted from their villages and forced into a life of brutality.
But while all agreed on the nature of the warlord’s operation, some lawmakers complained that Mr. Obama decided on the U.S. troop deployment unilaterally - on a Friday, as the House was beginning a weeklong recess - and that the mission that includes helping local civilians, aiding in the demobilization of LRA fighters and supporting humanitarian relief efforts could prove more extensive than the administration projects.
Rep. Donald A. Manzullo, Illinois Republican, said that although “ending a reign of terror is obviously welcome,” there were worries on Capitol Hill that the operation could expand, requiring more troops
“I have a lot of concerns,” he said. “I have a lot of anxious moments about whether or not the number of troops won’t grow to 200, 300 or more.”
Added Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, “The United States cant afford to pay the price [for] everyone elses freedoms in the world.”
Committee members pressed the administration on the rules of engagement, the mission’s scope and the definition of success.
“It is incumbent upon us to ensure that this action complies with both the letter and spirit of the law and furthers U.S. national security interests,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican and House Foreign Affairs committee chairman.
Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said that the hearing wasnt to “determine whether Joseph Kony is evil.”
“We already know he is,” she said.
Jedidiah Jenkins, director of ideology for Invisible Children Inc., an organization dedicated to raising awareness of the conflict in Uganda, called Mr. Obama’s decision to deploy troops a “huge step in the right direction.”