- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 23, 2003

KAMPALA, Uganda — The United States has begun providing military assistance to the Ugandan government in its bid to stamp out a 17-year-old rebel movement that the State Department designated a terrorist organization earlier this year.

The Bush administration approved a Ugandan request for logistical support and intelligence in August as part of a wider strategy to defeat terrorist groups operating in East Africa, and as a sign of gratitude for Ugandan support at the United Nations over Iraq policy, U.S. sources said.

The assistance involves American satellite photography and other electronic surveillance methods to help Uganda cut off support that the group apparently enjoys from neighboring Sudan. There will be no U.S. soldiers on the ground.

“Instead of using American soldiers, we’re using American dollars and American technology,” a U.S. official said.

John Nagenda, a Ugandan government spokesman, declined to confirm or deny the U.S. military assistance, but said it would be logical under the circumstances.

“If the Ugandan government were to ask for logistical support against a known terrorist organization, it would seem to be part of a global fight against terrorism,” Mr. Nagenda said.

Sgt. John Tomassi, a spokesman for the U.S. military’s European Command, which covers sub-Saharan Africa, said he could not comment specifically on Uganda, but that the United States is “committed to the security and stability of the region.”

Involvement in the Ugandan conflict reflects a deeper American military role in East Africa. Since the September 11 attacks, American special forces have set up a base in Djibouti, a small nation situated across from the Arabian Peninsula, and positioned a naval task force off the Kenyan coast.

The assistance follows a trip by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to Washington in June and a reciprocal visit by Mr. Bush in July. Gen. Charles Wald, deputy chief of the European Command, cemented the plan in August while in Uganda, U.S. sources said.

In June, Mr. Bush announced the United States would spend $100 million on antiterrorism aid to Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda and Djibouti.

The insurgency, known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), began in 1987 shortly after Mr. Museveni took power, though it has never neared its stated goal of overthrowing him.

The Ugandan government has been particularly frustrated by the apparent support that the LRA receives from Sudan. Mr. Nagenda said American aid would be helpful in halting arms shipments along its “porous border” with the Islamic state, which the United States has accused of harboring and supporting terrorists.

The State Department designated the LRA a terrorist organization in April.

Initially inspired by a young woman named Alice Lakwena, LRA gunmen sometimes relied on “magical oil” to protect themselves against bullets. The group is now led by Joseph Kony, a mystical figure to his followers, whose numbers are unknown.

Last year, the Uganda army set out to crush the LRA, but the guerrillas avoided government forces and intensified their fighting this year.

Though not known for ties to al Qaeda or other international networks, the LRA has a reputation for unparalleled brutality in the region, particularly against children. According to Human Rights Watch, the group has abducted at least 8,000 children over the past year for use as fighters or sex slaves.

The group also criticized the Ugandan army’s conduct in the war.

“Its own forces have committed gross abuses, including torture, rape, underage recruitment, and arbitrary detention,” Human Rights Watch said in a July 15 report.

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