Moment of Truth: Restrictions on US advisers hinder LRA pursuit and civilian protection operations
Last month we released our latest policy report, “Moment of Truth: The potential and limits of the US military’s counter-LRA deployment.” This paper was based on field research I conducted in LRA-affected areas of Congo, Central African Republic (CAR), South Sudan, and Uganda this spring. During the trip I had a chance to speak with civil society leaders, members of LRA affected communities, government officials, and some of the US advisers themselves.
One of the main findings of my trip was that the travel restrictions imposed by the US on the American military advisers are severely limiting their ability to effectively assist regional forces. Over half of the advisers are based in Uganda, and those that are deployed to the field remain confined to the towns of Nzara, South Sudan; Dungu, Congo; and Djemah and Obo, CAR. The travel restrictions prevent the advisers from meeting with remote communities most at risk of LRA attack or accompanying Ugandan soldiers on field patrols in the bush, limiting their perspective on the conflict and thus their ability to help advise Ugandan troops on how to best protect civilians and track LRA commanders.
The travel restrictions, which are primarily designed to ensure that the US advisers are kept safe and don’t unnecessarily risk their lives, initially made sense, especially when the advisers were first being deployed to unfamiliar areas. However, US advisers, Ugandan military commanders, and civil society leaders I interviewed in the field agreed that the travel restrictions could be now be significantly loosened without unnecessarily jeopardizing the advisers’ safety.
Senior officials at the Department of Defense, State Department and White House monitoring the deployment should urgently act to ease the advisers’ travel restrictions to allow them to visit outlying villages and military bases and accompany Ugandan troops on helicopter and ground patrols. Unless they grant US advisers such freedom of movement, senior US officials will heighten the risk that the advisers will fail in their mission to make military operations more successful in in pursuing LRA commanders and protecting civilians.
Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch reiterated the need for US advisers to have greater freedom of movement after doing research on series of major LRA attacks near Bakouma, CAR earlier this year in which 14 people were abducted and 15 killed. Ida Sawyer, Africa researcher for the organization, said, “The massacre in March and the LRA attacks in June show that greater efforts are needed to protect civilians in the area around Bakouma. The presence of US military advisers and regional forces in the area would enhance information-gathering needed to capture the LRA’s leaders and improve protection for civilians.”
Photo Credit: Reuters