Obama decision to send troops to Uganda comes under new scrutiny

President Obama’s decision to send 100 troops to Uganda is coming under new scrutiny now that soldiers are on their way to Africa.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle at a Tuesday hearing questioned the decision, with some suggesting it could draw the United Statesss into a long conflict.

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“The United States cannot afford to pay the price to win everyone’s freedom across the world,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who pointed to the nearly $1 billion cost to Washington of the recent Libya military intervention. 

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) was skeptical that U.S. troops would actually just be training and equipping Ugandan and other allied forces, saying that proved not to be the case in Vietnam.

A senior Pentagon official told a House panel Tuesday that the U.S. military deployment would not be open-ended. 

“We will not go on indefinitely,” Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Alexander Vershbow told House Foreign Affairs Committee members. “We will pull back, and we hope [regional allied forces] will be able to continue with this training and finish the job.” 

Obama has cited the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act as providing support for his decision to send troops to Uganda. 

The House had approved the measure by voice vote and the Senate by unanimous consent last year. Both procedures are generally used for legislation that is considered non-controversial. 

Obama’s announcement of a new intervention in Africa surprised many political observers, triggering criticism from conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh and former Rep. Joe Scarborough, the host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” who on an almost daily basis since the announcement has slammed Obama for starting a new war announced in a Friday letter to Congress. 

But the legislation underpinning the president’s decision has received considerably less attention. 

While the measure did not explicitly call for troops to be sent to Africa, it said it would be U.S. policy to provide political, economic, military and intelligence support for “viable multilateral efforts to protect civilians from the Lord’s Resistance Army, and to remove” army leader Joseph Kony and his top commanders from the battlefield.

Some conservative Republicans who support the measure said no one in Congress should be surprised by Obama’s decision.

“I would say that unlike Libya, which was basically sprung on Congress in a pretty short manner, this is something Congress has been aware of for a number of years,” said Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsFive takeaways from Barr's new powers in 'spying' probe Amash: Some of Trump's actions 'were inherently corrupt' 'Persuadable' voters are key to the 2020 election — and the non-screaming news industry MORE (R-Ala.), a member of the Armed Services Committee who supports the action in Uganda.

“I think members can’t say they were totally surprised,” Sessions added.

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense: Details on Senate's 0B defense bill | Bill rejects Trump plan to skirt budget caps | Backfills money for border wall | Defense chief says more troops could head to Mideast Senate panel rejects Trump plan to skirt budget caps, advances defense bill that backfills wall money Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Trump nominates Shanahan as Pentagon chief | House panel advances bill to block military funds for border wall | Trump defends Bolton despite differences MORE (R-Okla.), a lead sponsor of the Senate measure, said it had broad, bipartisan support. 

“We had 64 co-sponsors,” Inhofe told The Hill on Thursday. “That’s the most in the history of the Senate on an Africa-related bill.”

Inhofe said Obama didn’t have to send troops to Uganda because of the legislation, but that Congress has full responsibility for the decision. 

“I would have been disappointed” had Obama opted against sending U.S. troops there, Inhofe said. “It’s not that we mandated the president to act; we requested him to do it. I take full responsibility for that. I don’t hang that on the president at all.”

During a recent interview on ABC, Obama cited broad “bipartisan support” for his efforts in Uganda, but that has not silenced critics on Capitol Hill. 

“I worry that with the best of intentions, that somehow we get engaged in a commitment that we can’t get out of,” Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainClimate change is a GOP issue, too It's Joe Biden's 2020 presidential nomination to lose Meghan McCain on Pelosi-Trump feud: 'Put this crap aside' and 'work together for America' MORE (R-Ariz.) argued in comments earlier this month on CNN. 

“That’s happened before in our history and we need an explanation, and I’m very disappointed, again, that the administration has not consulted with members of Congress before taking such action,” he said. 

Sen. Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischOvernight Defense: 1,500 troops heading to Mideast to counter Iran | Trump cites Iran tensions to push through Saudi arms sale | Senate confirms Army, Navy chiefs before weeklong recess Senators say Trump using loophole to push through Saudi arms sale On The Money: Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump | Trump to offer B aid package for farmers | House votes to boost retirement savings | Study says new tariffs to double costs for consumers MORE (R-Idaho) told The Hill: “I have grave reservations about opening up a new front based upon all the things that we’re doing right now.” 

Worries that military advisers will be drawn into conflict came out during Tuesday’s hearing. 

Under questioning from Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyPelosi employs committee chairs to tamp down calls for Trump impeachment We can curb potential pandemics by investing in prevention tactics Mueller mystery: Will he ever testify to Congress? MORE (D-Va.), Vershbow acknowledged that the mission could lead to Kony being “captured or killed.” 

Committee members from both parties expressed skepticism about whether U.S. forces would be able to stay out of the fighting between Uganda-allied forces and the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Vershbow and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Donald Yamamoto were frank in saying the administration could not give Congress such guarantees. 

That’s because the deployment is different from other so-called “train-and-equip” missions that American forces conduct routinely, as it will send U.S. troops “into the field,” sometimes “at the platoon level,” to assist allied forces, Vershbow said. 

That will put American troops close to the front lines. State and Pentagon officials explained that this is why they will be sent to central Africa “combat equipped,” in case they must defend themselves.