- March 10, 2016
- News & Analysis
On Tuesday, General David Rodriguez, commander of the US Africa Command (AFRCOM), appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee. There he gave AFRICOM’s annual posture statement, analyzing threats to security in Africa and how the US military is responding.
The 20-page document containing General Rodriguez’s official testimony only contains two paragraphs on the US counter-LRA operations, but it paints a particularly rosy picture for Congressional leaders. A little too rosy, in fact, for our taste. So below we provide a sentence-by-sentence breakdown of his testimony on the LRA, with some clarifications and nuances we feel should have been noted.
“In Central Africa, in addition to those states engaged in Gulf of Guinea cooperation, the command’s efforts have focused on working with the African Union Regional Task Force to counter the Lord’s Resistance Army.”
- So far, so good.
“Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan have contributed forces to the African Union Regional Task Force, which has led military efforts to reduce the group’s safe havens, capture key leaders, and promote defections.”
- Technically, yes, all four of these countries have contributed troops to the AU RTF. But civil wars in South Sudan and CAR have prevented troops from those countries from being effectively operational for long stretches of time. The Congolese RTF contingent has showed some promise, but has had little, if any, direct military engagement with LRA groups or influence on LRA defections. Ugandan RTF troops have been far and away the most effective counter-LRA force, but they are not able to consistently operate in the LRA’s two largest safe havens: Congo’s Bas Uele Province and the Sudanese-controlled Kafia Kingi enclave. Also, no RTF forces have showed much interest in promoting defections – the US military actually deserves most of the credit on that front. Check out our August 2015, The Kony Crossroads, for more on all these dynamics.
“While Joseph Kony remains at large, the African Union Regional Task Force, with advice and assistance from U.S. forces, has had considerable success reducing the threat posed by the LRA.”
- AU RTF and US military operations have weakened the LRA to the point where it no longer commits large-scale massacres against civilians, and LRA violence since 2012 has been significantly lower than it was from 2008-2011. Counter-LRA forces deserve credit for this progress. But levels of LRA attacks and abductions have remained fairly consistent since US advisers deployed in 2012. For more detail, see our most recent report, The State of the LRA in 2016.
“Through the combined efforts of military forces, civilian agencies, and nongovernmental organizations, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) no longer threatens regional stability, and its capacity to harm civilian populations has diminished.”
- As noted above, there has been progress in degrading the LRA’s capacity to harm civilian populations, though it’s important to note that LRA attacks and abductions continue to threaten hundreds of thousands of civilians.
- The statement that the LRA “no longer threatens regional stability” is misleading, at best. The LRA has never seriously threatened the capital city or ruling elite of any country in which it operates. But it continues to attack and displace people across huge swaths of eastern CAR and northern DRC, slowing down efforts to extend government services and authority, counter illicit trafficking of all sorts, and deal with other armed groups (such as ex-Seleka and poachers). And even though the LRA no longer operates in South Sudan, some of the men there who formed militias to push the LRA out of the country are now fighting the South Sudanese military, demonstrating the destabilizing ripple effects LRA violence continues to have.
“Today, we estimate less than 200 Lord’s Resistance Army fighters remain, and communities are better prepared to protect themselves.”
- We also estimate that less than 200 LRA fighters remain, thanks in part to military operations and defection messaging. This represents significant progress since 2008, when Kony had 800 fighters at his disposal. However, the rate of attrition within the LRA’s fighting force has dropped dramatically in recent years. In the 20 months between November 2012 and June 2014, the LRA lost at least 51 Ugandan combatants: 32 defected, 14 killed or captured in battle, and five executed on Kony’s orders. In the 20 months between July 2014 and February 2016, only nine Ugandan combatants defected to external forces, though some others have separated from Kony’s control.
- The spread of early warning networks LRA-affected areas has helped communities greatly improve self-protection measures, allowing them to warn each other of LRA movements and avoid areas at high risk of LRA attack. But to be clear, anyone in LRA-affected areas who is not living in a large town protected by military forces is at risk of an LRA attack.
“While continuing to work to eliminate the threat posed by the LRA, United States Africa Command can also now begin to focus on countering illicit activities that support the LRA and other destabilization influencers in the region.”
- Sounds good… but we’re going to hold the US military to that promise to eliminate the threat posed by the LRA.