The U.S. government's decision to deploy military aircraft and additional troops could be "the decisive game changer" in the hunt for fugitive rebel leader Joseph Kony, whose notorious group, the Lord's Resistance Army, appears weaker than ever before amid growing defections and the loss of senior commanders, an expert said Monday.
The U.S. military aircraft will allow the anti-Kony mission to "act swiftly" in response to suspected LRA hiding places or attacks, said Kasper Agger, an Africa researcher with the watchdog group Enough Project.
"The timing is right," he said, adding that the deployment of the innovative Osprey aircraft "could be the decisive game changer in the mission to end the LRA."
The White House said early Monday that the U.S. is sending a limited number of CV-22 Osprey aircraft, refueling planes and "associated support personnel" to assist African forces chasing Kony in remote parts of Central Africa. The Washington Post reported that four Osprey aircraft and 150 more Air Force special operations members and airmen would be sent to Uganda.
The aircraft would be based in Uganda —whose military is leading the anti-Kony mission — but will be used in LRA-affected areas of Central African Republic, Congo and South Sudan, said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council. The additional support would enable African forces "to conduct targeted operations to apprehend remaining LRA combatants," she said.
The deployment of more military personnel will boost the 100 U.S. troops who have been supporting African forces as military advisers since 2011. They are not authorized to engage in direct combat with LRA fighters except in self-defense. The U.S. advisers are assisting about 2,500 African Union troops to chase LRA fighters in a jungle about the size of France.