Congressman Howard L. Berman, Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the following opening statement at today's committee briefing entitled "Deployment of U.S. Forces in Central Africa and Implementation of The Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act":
Two weeks ago, the Obama Administration announced that it would send about 100 U.S. military advisors to central Africa to support regional efforts to defeat the Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA.
Following that announcement, many questions were raised about the deployment. Why the LRA? Why now? And what specific role will our forces play on the ground? This timely hearing provides an excellent opportunity to discuss those important issues.
As noted in President Obama's October 14 letter to the Speaker, and as reflected in the title of this hearing, it is Congress that played a leading role in putting the LRA on our foreign policy agenda.
For years, the House and Senate passed resolutions drawing attention to the LRA's reign of terror.
And in 2010, as noted, Congress passed the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act. That bipartisan legislation, which President Obama signed into law, required the Administration to develop a comprehensive strategy for dismantling the LRA and protecting civilians throughout the region.
We've all heard about the horrors perpetrated by the LRA and its deranged leader, Joseph Kony. Mass killing, rape, mutilation of innocent civilians; children forced to kill their neighbors and family members; more than 20,000 children abducted and forced to become soldiers or sex slaves. Nearly 2 million people displaced, and tens of thousands murdered.
While the LRA may not pose a direct national security threat to the U.S. in narrowly defined terms, it does threaten the stability of a large swath of central Africa the size of California. This region includes South Sudan, the newest nation in the world whose independence efforts the U.S. strongly supported; Uganda, one of America's strongest allies in the fight against the al-Shabab in Somalia, an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist organization; the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo -- two countries that face significant challenges policing their territories and whose civilians are currently suffering the brunt of the LRA's atrocities. I believe that it is squarely in our national interest to build the capacity of allied forces so that they can fight bad actors on their own, and to support our allies when they need assistance, as we expect them to do for us.
The U.S. and the international community have long recognized that the LRA poses a serious threat to the stability of Central Africa, and have taken a number of steps to stop their barbaric behavior. In 2005, the International Criminal Court indicted Joseph Kony and three of his commanders for crimes against humanity. The U.S. placed the LRA on the Terrorist Exclusion List, and Joseph Kony on the Specially Designated Global Terrorist List. From 2006-2008, Uganda tried to negotiate a peace agreement with the group, only to have Kony walk away from the final deal. Uganda, southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo then launched a joint military operation, but failed to apprehend Kony or stop the LRA.
I'm very hopeful that the Administration's comprehensive strategy -- including the deployment of a modest number of combat-equipped advisors -- will finally help turn the tide in the struggle against the LRA.
While most of the focus has been on the military dimension of the strategy, it's important to remember that civilian-led programs are also an integral part of the effort. These include constant diplomatic engagement with all of the central African countries to maintain strong cooperation; a robust Demobilization, Disarmament, Repatriation, Resettlement, and Reintegration program; effective public awareness campaigns to encourage child soldiers and mid-ranking LRA members to abandon the group; and reconstruction assistance for devastated communities.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about the goals and expectations for the military deployment, as well as the details of these critical civilian efforts.
Thank you and Madam Chairman.