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Pentagon says troops won't be in central Africa for long

(Xinhua)

09:16, October 26, 2011

WASHINGTON, Oct. 25 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Defense Department on Tuesday told Congress U.S. troops deployed to central Africa will be there for months, and not for years.

Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Alexander Vershbow, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, said the administration "made very clear that this is not an open-ended commitment."

He said the cost and duration of the deployment is unclear, but it likely will cost tens of millions of dollars and last several months.

"We agreed there would be review after several months to know whether our advisors are making significant progress," he said. The U.S. troops are acting as advisers to national armies of the region to make sure they are capable of dismantling the militant group known as the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

The U.S. military and the State Department are working together on a four-point plan to help rid central Africa of the LRA, headed by Joseph Kony, who has been indicted for international war crimes, Vershbow said. He appeared before the committee alongside Donald Yamamoto, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, to explain the operation President Barack Obama announced Oct. 14.

The U.S. troops -- mostly Army Special Forces -- will work with the militaries of Uganda, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan to capture or kill Kony and other LRA commanders, Vershbow said.

The State Department will oversee the other three parts of the plan: to protect civilians, disarm and dismantle the LRA, and provide humanitarian relief to areas affected by the guerrilla militia, Vershbow and Yamamoto said. The LRA, they said, is composed mostly of kidnapped children forced to execute Kony's tactics over the past 20 years. Tens of thousands of people have been murdered and as many as 1.8 million have been displaced by the LRA, which has attacked at least 240 times this year, Yamamoto added.

U.S. Africa Command has provided training and equipment to central African militaries, and those militaries have been successful against the LRA, which is down to about 200 core fighters and about 600 supporters, Yamamoto said. About 12,000 LRA fighters, he said, have left the group and been reintegrated into their home environments.

African militaries have developed capacities and work together in difficult jungle terrain, but need military assistance in merging intelligence with operations planning, Vershbow said, adding with the consent of all the central African governments, some U.S. troops already have moved into the affected area. Most will stay in Uganda, but some will forward deploy with African troops.

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