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US boosts mission seeking Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony

Photo: AFP archive. Joseph Kony in 2006.

The US is sending 150 Special Operations troops, along with military aircraft, to Uganda to help in the search for missing warlord Joseph Kony, the Pentagon said on Sunday.

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The deployments started on Sunday night after the administration of President Barack Obama began to notify Congress. The decision was first reported by "The Washington Post" and later confirmed by the Defence Department.

In the first deployment of US military aircraft to Uganda to help locate Kony, at least four CV-22 Osprey aircraft will arrive in the country by midweek, together with refuelling planes and Special Operations forces airmen to fly and maintain them, the Pentagon said.

US personnel were authorised to “provide information, advice and assistance” to an African Union (AU) force tracking Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army, the "Post" reported.

“While combat-equipped, they are prohibited from engaging LRA forces unless in self-defence,” it said.

The Ospreys, which can take off and land vertically, are capable of ferrying 24 soldiers and their gear. They are expected to help AU forces respond more quickly to tips on Kony’s whereabouts, the Pentagon said.

A 5,000-strong AU Regional Task Force, supported by about 100 US Special Forces, is already hunting for Kony and his fighters.

Hunting down the LRA

LRA fighters, who emerged in northern Uganda in the late 1980s, are known for using extreme violence, including chopping off limbs as a form of punishment, as well as raping young girls and abducting them for use as sex slaves.

The militant group's doctrine mixes African mysticism with an extremist interpretation of Christianity.  In recent years it has been forced out of Uganda, and Kony is believed to be hiding with a core of fighters in the remote jungles of the Central African Republic, northeast Democratic Republic of Congo or South Sudan.

Kony and two other LRA leaders were indicted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court in 2005 on charges of butchering and kidnapping civilians.

In 2013, the US offered a $5 million reward for the capture of Kony.

The "Post" quoted administration officials as saying the deployment did not signal the White House was softening its criticism of new anti-gay legislation in Uganda that imposes harsh penalties for homosexuality.

Since last month’s enactment of the anti-gay legislation, Washington has said it is reviewing its relationship with Uganda’s government.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)

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