Moment of truth for US counter-LRA deployment as regional quarrels allow Kony to remain at large
Greater freedom of movement for US military advisers, personal leadership from President Obama to break regional deadlock and improve community infrastructure needed for counter-LRA efforts to succeed
WASHINGTON 25 June 2012 – A new report by the advocacy group Resolve, “Moment of Truth: The Potential and Limits of the US Military’s Counter-LRA Deployment,” provides recommendations for US and international efforts to capture Joseph Kony and bring an end to violence by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in central Africa. The report draws on field research conducted earlier this year in LRA-affected areas, including interviews with US military personnel deployed in South Sudan, Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo), and Uganda.
“US military advisers deployed to the heart of LRA territory are having a significant impact, but right now they are being confined to a handful of bases,” said Paul Ronan, Director of Advocacy at Resolve. “If given greater access to areas where the LRA is currently operating, the advisers would be more effective at assisting regional forces on how best to protect civilians and apprehend Kony and other senior commanders critical to the group’s survival.”
Despite the efforts of the US advisers and greater international attention on the LRA in recent months, regional governments continue to place little priority on collaborative counter-LRA efforts. The Ugandan military, the most capable force pursuing the LRA, has been forced to withdraw from Congolese territory and has as few as 800 troops remaining in the field. Though senior LRA officer Caesar Achellam was detained in May 2012, LRA leader Joseph Kony remains out of reach, reportedly hiding along the border between northern CAR and South Darfur.
On Wednesday, June 27, the UN Security Council will receive a briefing on the LRA crisis, and the UN and AU are expected to announce a joint LRA strategy this month.
"The release of joint UN and AU strategy to stop the LRA is a step in the right direction, but without buy-in from regional governments and funding from donors civilians will remain at risk and Joseph Kony will remain at large," said Michael Poffenberger, Executive Director of Resolve. “President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton need to get personally engaged in regional diplomacy, including by working with the UN and AU to facilitate a face-to-face meeting of regional heads of state on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September."
Achellam’s removal and Kony’s relative isolation from other LRA groups could weaken Kony’s control over the group. Policymakers should respond by drawing on a range of strategies to isolate and bring in individual LRA commanders and groups.
“Debates about how to stop the LRA have too long been polarized as military operations vs. peace negotiations. But the presence of US advisers and State Department staff in the field gives policymakers the opportunity to tailor the counter-LRA response to individual commanders.” said Ronan. “Military operations are necessary to bring in commanders who refuse peace, but renewed dialogue and ‘come home’ messages could encourage the surrender of commanders and lower-ranking combatants who are sick of living on the run.”
The report also recommends that policymakers learn from local leadership across the region about the important role that development, improved governance, and telecommunications systems can play in helping to prevent the LRA from preying on isolated communities.
“South Sudan’s Western Equatoria State provides an prime example of how better roads, a proactive local government, mobile phone service, and robust early-warning networks can make life difficult for LRA commanders,” said Ronan. “If President Obama invests more funds in similar projects in northern Congo and southeast CAR, he’ll not only help defeat the LRA but will also make it difficult for similar predatory groups to thrive in the region.”