The US military is deploying four tilt-rotor transport planes to Uganda in response to African Union requests for airlift support in the hunt for the elusive leader of the violent Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) extremist group, the Pentagon said on Monday.
The US Department of Defense has deployed the four CV-22 Ospreys, which can take off and land vertically, to Uganda from Djibouti along with tanker refueling airplanes, 150 air crew and support personnel, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said.
“Airlift has been one of the consistent requirements and requests of the African Union. We are in a position now to provide that airlift for a while and we’re going to do it,” Kirby said. “This is very much in keeping with the mission goals at large.”
A 5,000-strong African Union Regional Task Force supported by 100 US Special Operations troops has been hunting warlord Joseph Kony and his LRA fighters, most of whom are thought to be hiding in jungles straddling the borders of the Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Osprey jets will be used to help African Union troops respond more quickly to tips on the whereabouts of Kony, whose forces are known for their extreme violence, including chopping off limbs as a form of punishment and abducting young girls for use as sex slaves.
The CV-22 Osprey is a Special Operations variant of the aircraft developed for the US Marine Corps and can carry about 24 troops plus their gear.
The Ospreys and four refueling tankers — two C-130s and two KC-135 — will join the 100 US Special Ops troops who have been in Uganda for a year advising and assisting African Union forces involved in the search for Kony.
Kirby said the Ospreys would remain in Uganda only a short time before returning to their base in Djibouti, but would likely return periodically to Uganda to help with the effort against Kony.
“I think it’s safe to say that these aircraft and these crews will probably redeploy back over time,” Kirby told a Pentagon news conference. “They probably won’t be on the ground for very long, but they’ll be back.”
He said the additional 150 personnel consisted of air crew and maintenance personnel and would travel back and forth between Djibouti and Uganda with the planes.
Djibouti is the site of Camp Lemonnier — the only US military base in Africa — which is home to about 2,500 troops who work on building military ties with countries in the region.