U.S. Support Aids Hunt for Central African Rebel Group
STUTTGART, Germany, June 22, 2012 – The U.S. military is just one part of a larger, multinational effort to help four African partner nations bring rebel leader Joseph Kony and senior members of his brutal Lord’s Resistance Army to justice, said Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, the commander of U.S. Africa Command.
Kony and his followers, many of them reported to be kidnapped children, have for years conducted a reign of terror marked by thousands of deaths, abductions, maiming and rape across several nations in central Africa. But they gained worldwide notoriety earlier this year when a YouTube video about Kony went viral.
The United States’ focus on this problem, however, is not new, Africom officials explained.
Since the 1990s, the United States has provided Uganda humanitarian and security assistance and supported reconciliation efforts in support of Uganda’s efforts to curtail the LRA’s brutalities against civilian populations.
President Barack Obama signed the Lord’s Resistance Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act into law in May 2010, affirming U.S. commitment to partners in the region to put an end to LRA atrocities. Since then, the United States has pursued a comprehensive, multi-faceted strategy to help the governments and people of the region in their efforts to end the threat posed by the rebel group.
Last fall, the president increased this effort by ordering 100 special operations forces to the region, where they operate from a joint operations center in Uganda and four remote outposts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.
Ham emphasized that the U.S. military has no direct operational role. Instead of conducting the manhunt themselves, U.S. troops are providing information- and intelligence-sharing, logistics, communications and other enabling capabilities for host-nation troops pursuing Kony in Uganda, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Republic of the Congo.
“Our effort … is very much a supporting role to try to encourage the militaries of the four African countries that are involved, who lead their effort,” he said.
This approach, Ham explained, is consistent with Africom’s overall strategy and priorities. “The two overarching principles for us here at U.S. Africa Command are, one, simply, a safe, stable, secure Africa is in the best interest of not only the African countries, but of the United States as well,” he said. “And certainly the … effort to bring Kony to justice fits into that ... priority.”
The approach also reinforces one of Africom’s underlying principles, espoused by Obama during his visit to Ghana in 2009, in that, “in the long run, Africans are best suited to address African security problems,” the general said.
Ham recognized the challenges the Africans face in finding Kony and the LRA, who operate across a large ungoverned area and conceal their movements and limit their communications.
“It’s a large geographic area, heavily forested, very remote, [with a] lack of infrastructure, very few roads and bridges. It’s very rough terrain, and so it doesn’t lend itself to an easy solution,” he said.
Complicating the effort, he said, is the fact that the LRA’s members, estimated at about 200 in number, never congregate and operate in “very, very small groups.”
Ham reported signs of progress regarding the collective military efforts against the LRA.
“There are indications that the organization is increasingly in a survivalist mode; that they are moving frequently, that they are focused more on self-preservation than they are on extending their influence… into the small towns and villages across the region,” he said.
Ham expressed concern, however, that a desperate LRA might attempt a spectacular attack to weaken the collective will of the Africans confronting them.
“It’s a very real concern, and one we have to watch carefully,” he said.
However, Ham said he has seen increased commitment and cooperation in recent months between the Africans and expressed confidence that they ultimately will succeed in capturing Kony.
“I’m confident in the abilities of the four African countries: the level of commitment that I’ve seen from their senior officials, mostly from heads of state, certainly from ministers of interior and defense and chief of staff; the level of commitment I see from the African Union; the level of commitment from my president and from our government,” he said. “I am confident this mission will be successful.”
Ham offered a reminder about why that success matters for the United States.
“Why does America care about this part of Africa?” he said. “Because we have a great interest in regional stability and regional security. We feel…, as Americans, that our security is enhanced when other parts of the world are stable and secure as well.”