Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited Uganda yesterday, meeting with senior government and military leaders to affirm the growing security partnership between the United States and the East African nation, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said in a statement.
The visit was part of a trip Carter is making this week to Israel, Uganda and Ethiopia to discuss issues of mutual importance with defense and government leaders in the three countries.
Carter is the highest-ranking DOD official ever to visit Uganda.
The visit gave him a chance to discuss a range of regional security challenges with Ugandan partners -- including the conflicts in Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo -- and ending the longstanding threat to civilians and to regional stability posed by Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army, known as the LRA.
In Somalia, for example, as of July 22, 6,220 Uganda People’s Defense Force soldiers supported the African Union mission in Somalia, called AMISOM.
The United States also is committed to helping Somalia; since 2009, it has provided more than $1.5 billion in assistance to Somalia, including $545 million in fiscal year 2012, according to a State Department fact sheet. U.S. funding helps to provide training, equipment and logistical support for Uganda and other troop-contributing countries.
Senior defense officials traveling with Carter said the United States commends UPDF soldiers involved in AMISOM for their commitment and selfless support to the Somali people and to the fight against al-Shabaab, an al-Qaida-linked militant group and U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization fighting to create a fundamentalist Islamic state in Somalia.
“Uganda is a key partner in terms of security and stability in the region,” a senior defense official said. “Not only do they tend to security within their borders, but … they’re operating in the region trying to track down LRA, which is something that affects four different countries in the region. It’s not just Uganda, it’s the Democratic Republic of Congo, it’s South Sudan, and it’s the Central African Republic.”
Uganda, as a member of the African Union Peace and Security Council, has a role in negotiations between South Sudan and Sudan and was a strong supporter of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that led to South Sudan’s independence on July 9, 2011.
Uganda and most of its neighbors have been victims and now are taking the fight to Joseph Kony and his followers. For more than two decades, according to a U.S. Africa Command fact sheet, the LRA murdered, raped and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women and children. In 2011, the LRA committed more than 250 attacks. In 2012, the United Nations estimated that more than 465,000 people were displaced or living as refugees across the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan as a result of LRA activity in 2011.
In May 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the Lord’s Resistance Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, which reaffirmed U.S. commitment to support regional partners’ efforts to end LRA atrocities in central Africa. In October 2011, Obama authorized the deployment to central Africa of 100 U.S. forces whose mission is to help regional forces end the threat posed by Kony.
The multiyear U.S. strategy seeks to help the governments of Uganda, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan, and the African Union and the United Nations end the LRA threat to civilians and regional stability, defense officials said. Its four objectives are to increase civilian protection, apprehend or remove Kony and senior LRA commanders from the battlefield, promote defections of those who follow Kony and urge them back into the community and provide continued humanitarian relief to affected communities, they added.
At U.S. Embassy Kampala during the deputy defense secretary’s visit, Information Officer Elise Crane said Carter’s visit comes at a time when security cooperation between the United States and Uganda has been very strong.
“I’d say it’s the cornerstone of our partnership with Uganda,” Crane said. Another important part of the partnership has been the counter-LRA effort, a truly regional mission led by the Africans, she added.
“I think the deputy secretary’s visit is a good reminder that the U.S. is still committed to this mission. His visit comes at a good time,” the information officer added. “The reception he got from the Ugandan security forces was very warm. They’re delighted to have him, and I think this visit will strengthen our partnership even more.”
While here, Carter also spoke on the phone with President Yoweri Museveni, who was traveling outside Kampala, and met with Foreign Affairs Minister Henry Okello, Chief of Defense Forces Edward Katumba Wamala, Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence Brig. Gen. Charles Bakahumura, and Chief of Staff of Ugandan Land Forces Brig. Gen. Leopold Kyanda.
The deputy secretary also met with U.S. troops supporting the Ugandan military's effort to remove LRA leaders from the battlefield and a separate contingent of U.S. forces providing specialized counterterrorism training to Ugandan forces who will deploy as part of the African Union AMISOM mission in Somalia.
In the late afternoon, despite having wrapped up a full appointment schedule and with a plane waiting to take him on to the final leg of his trip in Ethiopia, Carter and his motorcade hurried down rutted red dirt roads, stirring clouds of dust into the air on the way to Kisenyi Peacekeeping Base.
The Ugandan troops gathered around when he got there, and he told them about the people he passed along the road -- adults and children going to work, going to school, riding bikes, tending animals.
“That’s why we’re here,” he told them, “so those people can go on living their daily lives.”
Economic and human development is what it’s all about and what people really want, Carter said, “but that can’t happen without you all. We recognize that you’re planting the seeds for the future for all of us, and we’re very grateful, so on behalf of me … and the whole DOD team that’s here, thank you.”