Reactions to yesterday’s debate on the LRA
Yesterday, I participated in a discussion on U.S. policy toward the LRA as a respondent to a keynote address delivered by the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson. Carson’s address was the highest-level State Department commentary on the LRA crisis since Obama took office, and – I think – the most substantive public commentary from a U.S. official on the crisis, ever. So we wanted to share a few highlights.
Much of Assistant Secretary Carson’s address – which is well worth the full read here – was focused on the implications of President Obama’s decision to dispatch U.S. military advisers to help central African governments stop LRA atrocities. But it also went beyond the advisers.
Carson structured his comments on the current U.S. strategy around four “lessons of history” about how to end LRA atrocities that emerged as Obama Administration officials developed the LRA strategy issued by the White House last November. These “lessons learned” showed an evolution of U.S. thinking relative to previous years, towards a more nuanced and comprehensive approach.
One of the lessons focused on the centrality of civilian protection in any military operations, which was notable given the US’ and Uganda’s failure to prevent LRA reprisal attacks following the launch of Operation Lightning Thunder in December of 2008. Additionally, while Carson underscored the importance of equipping militaries in the region to improve their capacity to protect civilians and track down LRA leaders, he also argued that there was no “military-only solution” and in favor of strengthened efforts to help LRA fighters and abductees defect from the group.
Of course, we also have to appreciate that Carson gave a shout-out to the “hundreds of thousands of Americans, especially young Americans, [who] have mobilized and expressed concern for the communities in central Africa placed under siege by the Lord’s Resistance Army.”
Resolve’s message in response was simple. The deployment of advisers is a significant step forward, and should be recognized as an unprecedented move to help protect people from the LRA’s brutal atrocities. However, we must ultimately measure U.S. efforts against progress on the ground, which has stalled in the past two years. Furthermore, the deployment must be complemented with other steps if it is to succeed in permanently stopping LRA violence.
We particularly highlighted the need for additional U.S. leadership in four key areas to accomplish the following:
• Help regional governments cooperate and stay focused on protecting civilians and ending LRA atrocities, as collaboration is faltering and the Congolese government is actively downplaying LRA attacks on civilians;
• Overcome the challenges posed by the remoteness of areas being targeted by the LRA by investing $10-20 million in civilian infrastructure such as roads, telecommunications, and FM radio in 2012 (an amount that is dwarfed by ongoing security-focused spending);
• Equip the regional military operations with the tools necessary for success, especially mobility support – such as helicopters – and enhanced intelligence capabilities to detect LRA movements and the locations of top commanders; and
• Keep the advisers deployed until the LRA is no longer able to perpetrate atrocities against civilians, a goal that goes beyond just apprehending Joseph Kony.
We’re grateful to our hosts at the U.S. Institute of Peace for inviting us to participate, Assistant Secretary Carson for his address, and to Ambassador Mark Bellamy of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, the other respondent on the panel.
Photo courtesy of Adam Bearne