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Troops to Africa

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President Obama has dispatched 100 troops to Central Africa on a humanitarian mission to help track down a fugitive wanted for crimes against humanity.

The contingent of special-operations forces began arriving Wednesday in Uganda to help train its army to search for Joseph Kony and what remains of his Lord’s Resistance Army that has terrorized Central Africa for more than 20 years. Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes for LRA atrocities that have left thousands dead in several countries. The group has kidnapped children to use as sex slaves and as soldiers. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced.

More troops will be sent to South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. President Obama said the “combat-equipped” troops will provide information advice and assistance to national forces and would not “themselves engage LRA forces” except for self-defense, which could lead to further escalation of U.S. involvement in both combat and in troop levels.

The deployment is unusual. The administration has been reluctant to commit ground forces to Africa. It stepped back to let other countries take the lead in U.N.-sanctioned air assaults against ousted Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi and made clear that no U.S. troops would be deployed there. President Obama cited national security and foreign policy interests, but it is unclear what threat the LRA poses to national security. The Ugandan military has estimated that only a few hundred rebel fighters remain.

Fewer than two dozen military advisers were sent to Uganda under President George W. Bush, but the Ugandan-led effort failed after Kony and LRA forces fled to neighboring countries.

The deployment may be welcome news to human rights advocates, but it puts American forces at risk of being drawn deeper into another conflict as Americans tire of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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