Uganda and the USA have ended a six-year search for warlord Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Yet the failure to “kill or capture” Kony could see the insurgency rebound, media venture IRIN said in a report on Wednesday.
Uganda began withdrawing its 2,500 troops from their base in eastern Central African Republic (CAR) last week. On Tuesday, the 100 US special forces who have provided intelligence and logistics support to the Ugandan troops since 2011, started to pull out.
The mission, known as the African Union (AU) Regional Taskforce, was almost from the start a Ugandan affair. It was supposed to have been 5,000-strong, drawing troops from South Sudan, Congo, and CAR as well. But the neighbouring countries, having their own security challenges, either never deployed or quickly withdrew their contingents.
The Ugandan troops have recorded significant successes. Four key LRA commanders have been captured, and an insurgency of 2,000 fighters that terrorised a huge swathe of territory across central Africa has been sharply degraded.
Colonel Richard Otto, the commander of Uganda’s contingent in CAR, told IRIN that there has been a steady trickle of defections and that “over 1,000 civilians” abducted by the LRA have been rescued.
Kony apparently no longer leads his men. “He has lost command, control, and communication,” said the Ugandan colonel. “For the first time, the LRA has factions. There is a group… who has decided to leave [the] LRA and operates on [its] own.”
The LRA, now believed to be down to less than 120 armed men, has splintered into small units, that are reportedly operating in eastern CAR, north-eastern Congo, and in Sudan’s Darfur. Kony himself is widely believed to be hiding in the disputed, mineral-rich area of Kafia Kingi in South Darfur. Rumours say that Sudan’s military has harboured and supported him and his forces since 1994.
Kony, a self-proclaimed prophet, and his LRA emerged in Uganda in 1987 to fight against President Yoweri Museveni. Between that year and 2006, the militant force abducted more than 20,000 children to use as soldiers, servants, or sex slaves, Unicef reported.
The group’s violence has displaced more than 2.5 million people, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.
In 2005, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Kony for crimes against humanity and war crimes. In 2008, the US government declared him a “specially designated global terrorist”, and began providing support to military operations against the LRA. Three years later, the Obama administration deployed troops to the region to work with the AU soldiers against Kony and his forces, providing advisory support, intelligence and logistical assistance.
Otto acknowledged that the LRA still remains a problem to the general population.
“They are involved in looting food, looting gold, diamonds, killing elephants in [Congo’s] Garamba national park and Zemongo national park in CAR,” he said. It is a revenue stream that could keep them armed for years.
Holly Dranginis, a senior analyst at the US-based Enough Project against genocide warned that “Completely abandoning the mission will create security vacuums for already extremely vulnerable communities, particularly in CAR and north-eastern Congo.
“Leaving now will also dismantle key defection sites, leaving individuals with scarce options if they want to leave the LRA and reintegrate into civilian life,” she told IRIN.
The Ugandan government however, has hinted that it will not step away altogether from an insurgency that began in Uganda almost three decades ago, and was then exported to its neighbours.
The spokesman for the Ugandan army, Richard Karemire, said last week that his country could join the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR under a strengthened mandate to tackle the LRA. He also suggested Uganda could support “capacity-building” of the CAR Armed Forces for “counter-LRA operations”.
According to Dranginis, the USA should continue supporting defection campaigns as it has proved successful in “weakening the group and creating opportunities for fighters and abductees to leave”. Demobilisation and reintegration is a complex process, she added, but it “can pay dividends for security in the region”.
Sasha Lezhnev, who monitors the LRA activities for the Enough Project, told New York Times that “It is a big mistake for the Trump administration to pull out of this mission right at a time when the Government of Sudan is on the hook for providing actionable intelligence to find Joseph Kony, finally”.
(Sources: irinnews.org, nytimes.com, theguardian.com)