AFRICOM commander announces plan to send advisers to LRA areas
Last Tuesday, General Carter Ham spoke about his work as head of AFRICOM (the US military’s Africa Command) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here in DC (video and audio here). During his talk, General Ham discussed AFRICOM’s involvement in implementing President Obama’s LRA strategy, saying, “We have legislative action here in the United States that requires us to assist in countering the Lord’s Resistance Army” (10:43).
After acknowledging the serious threat the LRA poses to the region, General Ham turned some heads when he mentioned the Obama Administration’s intent to deploy US military advisors directly in LRA-affected areas. He said the advisers would be deployed “in the very near future” to help regional military forces in their efforts to protect civilians and bring LRA commanders to justice (42:20).
If the plan moves forward, such a deployment would constitute the most significant action taken by the US since the White House issued its LRA strategy last year. Though the full details of the deployment have yet to be announced, a few things are clear based on initial conversations with Administration officials.
For starters, the advisers will be doing just that – advising. They will not be mandated to participate in actual combat operations against the LRA. Second, they are likely to be working in a number of different capacities. A few have already been deployed to Congo, where they’ve been training a Congolese military battalion that was recently deployed to LRA-affected areas and working with UN intelligence analysts. But the bulk of the advisers — several dozen who are yet to be deployed — will likely be assisting the Ugandan military, the lead force in operations attempting to apprehend Kony and senior LRA commanders.
With the right mandate, these advisers could be a significant step forward as part of the broader, civilian-led implementation of President Obama’s LRA strategy. Their presence on the ground can help shed light on why current military efforts are failing and lead to better-informed recommendations for how the US and other governments can respond. They can also monitor the human rights record of national militaries receiving US security assistance operating in remote areas, which is increasingly a concern for local civil society and human rights groups.
It is, however, critical that they be tasked not only with improving the chances that Kony and other commanders are captured but also with strengthening efforts to protect civilians in the meantime. Most importantly, they should work with regional militaries to ensure effective measures are in place to protect civilians from LRA reprisal attacks. Too often we’ve seen devastating consequences when this isn’t done, most notably when US-backed, Ugandan-led bombings of LRA camps sparked the Christmas Massacres in December of 2008.
In short, this is a big deal. With the right mandate, US advisers directly on the ground could have a very positive impact. I’ll be writing more about the opportunities – and challenges – this development will pose for President Obama’s LRA strategy as soon as we know more details.
P.S. Here are video highlights of Gen. Ham’s statements regarding the LRA