U.S. troops helping in the fight against a brutal rebel group called the Lord's Resistance Army are now deployed in four Central African countries, the top U.S. special operations commander for Africa said Wednesday.
The U.S. announced in October it was sending about 100 U.S. troops _ mostly special operations forces _ to Central Africa to advise in the fight against the LRA and its leader Joseph Kony, a bush fighter wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
Rear Adm. Brian L. Losey, the top U.S. special operations commander for Africa, said the U.S. troops are now stationed in bases in Uganda, Congo, South Sudan and Central African Republic.
"We've already seen a decrease in the lethality of LRA activities, which we think is attributable in part to the pressure we and our partners are applying," Losey said in a telephone briefing to journalists.
Losey said counter-LRA actions will increase in frequency and effectiveness in coming months.
The LRA began its attacks in Uganda in the 1980s, when Kony sought to overthrow the government. Since being pushed out of Uganda several years ago, the militia has terrorized villages in Central Africa.
A top State Department official, Karl Wycoff, said that Kony has shown the ability to mobilize combatants and militant leaders to carry out "horrible atrocities" for the LRA, which he called "some kind of cult," given that the group has no clear agenda. He said the U.S. effort was not just aimed at Kony but at all the LRA leaders.
However, Col. Felix Kulayigye, the spokesman for Uganda's military, said the hunt for Kony was an important aspect of the anti-LRA effort.
"Kony is the LRA and the LRA is Kony," he said. "Other than Kony the only other person who had the capacity to sustain the LRA was (Vincent) Otti, who is gone. You get Kony and you have the LRA done."
Otti, Kony's former deputy, has been presumed dead since the failure of peace talks mediated by South Sudan ended in 2008. Ugandan army officials say Kony ordered his death, fearing he was about to defect.
The LRA's tactics have been widely condemned as vicious. The U.S. troops are helping to fight a group that has slaughtered thousands of civilians and routinely kidnaps children to be child soldiers and sex slaves.
The anti-LRA group Resolve in a report released Wednesday urged the U.S. to encourage Uganda to dedicate more troops and helicopters to their counter-LRA operations. The group also urged the U.S. to fund more transport helicopters and improved communications equipment for Ugandan troops, and to increase intelligence gathering by expanding the use of aerial surveillance.
Losey said there are no drone aircraft currently being used by U.S. troops involved in the counter-LRA fight. U.S. forces are working on improving communications in the region and how to integrate intelligence.
Many of the U.S. forces are stationed in Uganda. Others are based in Obo, Central African Republic; Dungu, Congo; and in Nzara, South Sudan, Losey said. Each of those locations had established bases where troops from partner countries have been based.
The LRA operates in an area the size of California, Losey said.
Associated Press reporter Rodney Muhumuza in Kampala, Uganda contributed to this report.