My knee-jerk reaction to Friday's announcement that around 100 American military personnel were being sent to several African nations - Uganda, Sudan, the Central African Republic - to aid locals in their fight against the Lord's Resistance Army and search for the leader, Joseph Kony was negative.
After some time to think, I am still wary. All the same, I am willing to be convinced. I doubt I would ever be completely happy with a project like this. We are still bogged down in Afghanistan; we have 47,000 troops in Iraq (although the Obama Administration has signaled they will meet the end-of-the-year deadline to bring the bulk of them home); our participation in the Libyan Civil War, in the midst of these other military endeavors, certainly presented strains on logistics, intelligence, supply, and other matters.
Add to that 100 troops, even if highly-trained special forces - Army Rangers, Marines, who knows what - hardly seems large enough to make a serious contribution to the struggle against what amounts to nihilistic terrorist organization. The brief, as it has been explained, is the troops are there to assist. They are to engage in defensive combat only, although the Canadian National Post is correct that any meeting would result in combat. Before American troops entered Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, a small spec-ops force made it as far as the building housing the ruling Taliban, and were wiped out. Too small a force, far from any conceivable supply line is not a recipe for an easy time.
On the other hand, the LRA is despicable. Seeming to enjoy violence for the sake of violence, kidnapping and inducting child-soldiers, using girls as sex slaves, whole-sale slaughter the rule rather than the exception, the LRA has no indigenous support, relying on threats of violence and terrorizing locals to keep them in line.
A larger force, with the potential for future systematic military deployment - creating a future base, in other words - would certainly be more worrying. The area of Africa in question, like much of the continent, is resource rich; the Chinese, in particular, have been investing heavily in creating sustaining extraction infrastructure in various areas of the continent. In some ways, the US sending a small force without creating the infrastructure necessary for long-term occupation does seem to contradict the usual neo-colonial criticisms of such actions. If any country would be aided by the eradication of the LRA, it would be China.
I'm still not convinced this is either wise or good policy. It has much to recommend it. It also has much going against it. Pres. Obama does seem to grasp that, rather than massed armies with tanks, artillery, and air cover, for right now the best military force is small, highly-trained, and mobile. He has used special forces against Somali pirates, Osama Bin Laden, and probably so many others of which we shall never hear. Dispatching such forces may signal a decision on how he envisions future American military force structure (along with the explosion in the use of UAVs by the Air Force). If successful, it may well succeed in multiple ways.
Call me wary, but willing to be convinced that this is good policy. On simple humanitarian grounds, it seems wise. Nation-states aren't in the humanitarian business, in particular their militaries. So, convince me, one way or another.