Lawmakers advocated Wednesday for the Obama administration to keep the U.S. military involved in the hunt for African warlord Joseph Kony.
“We trust the administration will decide to continue this worthy effort,” said Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations in the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The remarks during a subcommittee hearing come the same day as a front-page story in the Washington Post saying U.S. troops have been working with a Muslim rebel group in the search.
In 2011, the United States sent forces to central Africa to aid in the search for Kony, whose Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has terrorized the region. Right now, there are about 100 U.S. military advisers in four countries.
Since the U.S. sent its Special Operations forces, LRA fighters have reportedly dropped by half, and mass abductions and killings have dramatically decreased.
In October, the Obama administration will decide whether to reauthorize the deployment.
Karen BassKaren BassLa. rep picked to lead Congressional Black Caucus The Hill's 12:30 Report Lawmakers, stars collide at 'Queen of Katwe' premiere MORE (D-Calif.), ranking member on the subcommittee, echoed Smith’s sentiments that the United States needs to continue guiding the search for Kony.
“While it’s reported, as the chairman mentioned, that the strength of the LRA has dwindled to maybe as small as 200 fighters today, their intimate knowledge of the inhospitable central African landscapes and total disregard for human life continues to make them a clear and present danger,” Bass said. “I’d like to encourage my colleagues in Congress and other U.S. government agencies to sustain our efforts to rid central Africa of Joseph Kony.”
Kony is believed to be hiding in Kafia Kingi, a disputed region controlled by Sudan. U.S. Special Operations forces are prohibited from entering Sudan, and have set up camp as close as they can get, in the Central African Republic.
Two years ago, a Muslim rebel group known as Seleka toppled the government in the Central African Republic and triggered an ongoing sectarian war.
Wednesday’s Washington Post report said that a team of U.S. troops regularly meets with Seleka leaders to get intelligence and sometimes provide medical care to Seleka loyalists.
U.S. military officials expressed concern to the Post that Seleka is "playing us."
Peter Boogaard, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told the Post that U.S. forces “do not provide intelligence or operational assistance to Seleka factions,” but that “our military advisors may meet with actors who may have information on LRA activities.”
Nonprofit heads who operate in the area and who testified in front of the subcommittee Wednesday defended any communication U.S. troops might have had with Seleka. To their knowledge, they said, U.S. troops haven’t given Seleka anything in return.
“U.S. forces need to be operating in that area, which is close to where Kony is located,” Sasha Lezhnev, associate director of policy for Enough Project told the subcommittee. “This is not an Islamist, a jihadist group. They’re not establishing Sharia law or anything like that. They’ve been in control of that area for over 10 years. So if anyone wants to move in and out of that area, they of course have to communicate with them.”