A senator said Thursday that Moammar Gadhafi's death and the promise of a new Libyan regime are arguments for the measured U.S. military response in central Africa where the U.S. has sent roughly 100 troops as advisers in the battle against a guerrilla group accused of widespread atrocities.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., chairman of the Foreign Relations subcommittee that oversees African affairs, told reporters that he backs President Barack Obama's decision to dispatch U.S. forces against the Lord's Resistance Army and help to hunt down its leader, Joseph Kony.
Coons said that since 2001, the Lord's Resistance Army has been listed as a terrorist organization. It has been "a genuine scourge to an entire region," Coons said. He spoke shortly after officials from the State and Defense departments privately briefed members of the Foreign Relations Committee about the operation.
Long considered one of Africa's most brutal rebel groups, the Lord's Resistance Army began its attacks in Uganda more than 20 years ago but has been pushing westward. The Obama administration and human rights groups say its atrocities have left thousands dead and have forced as many as 300,000 Africans to flee. They have charged the group with seizing children to bolster its ranks of soldiers and sometimes forcing them to become sex slaves.
Last Friday, Obama said he was sending U.S. troops to central Africa as advisers, a move that drew strong bipartisan support in Congress. The president said they will not engage in combat except in self-defense.
Still, lawmakers expressed some concern about the United States ending up on a slippery slope of military involvement. Coons said he was reassured that the administration will continue to consult with Congress on the operation. He said developments out of Libya show that the United States can succeed in a limited role.
"I think it is a good day to celebrate that we can use some of the unique strategic assets of the United States in measured, modest and responsible ways to advance the protections of civilians and to advance humanitarian goals in partnership with our allies," Coons said.
U.S. military forces have been part of the NATO operation enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya and protecting civilians.