October 30, 2011: The recent announcement that the United States would send about a hundred special operations troops to Uganda, is the result of several years of lobbying by American and African politicians. The American troops are being sent to help catch or kill a man who has terrified millions of people in Central Africa over the last two decades. The target is the elusive Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) of Uganda. Although pursued by thousands of soldiers, police and tribal militiamen all these years, Kony and Company (a few hundred gunmen) have killed or enslaved several hundred thousand people. Millions have fled their homes just because it was rumored Kony was headed their way.
In the beginning, Kony and his henchmen tore apart northern Uganda, by turning teenagers into deadly gunmen, and enslaving children and adults as a support force. His tactics have killed over 100,000 people, and turned northern Uganda into a mess. The Ugandans eventually drove him out of Uganda. But now Kony and his followers are ravaging adjacent areas, especially eastern Congo. No one seems able to catch him, and his having been declared an international war criminal has made peace talks with him impossible. Kony won't accept any amnesty if it means being tried as a war criminal, and the international court that indicted him, is not authorized to negotiate any deal that would let Kony walk free. Justice must be served, even if it can't stop the mayhem.
The first step in getting American help to catch Kony occurred when U.S. AFRICOM (Africa Command), which is similar in organization to other American regional commands (Central, for the Middle East, and South, for Latin America, etc), was established four years ago. AFRICOM coordinates all American military operations in Africa. Before that, those operations were coordinated between two commands (the one covering Europe and the one covering the Middle East, with some help from the one handling Latin America). The establishment of AFRICOM meant more money for counter-terror operations in Africa, and more long range projects. Many members of Congress are under pressure from constituents to do something about all the suffering in Africa and AFRICOM is seen as part of the solution, especially when it comes to stopping mass murderers like Kony.
AFRICOM sees its mission as aiding African armed forces with training, advice and small grants of weapons and equipment. But Congress is aware that, in the past, small numbers of professional troops have gone in and quickly eliminated outfits like LRA. For example, in 2005, Britain sent in a few hundred commandos to shut down some holdout rebel groups in Sierra Leone. That worked. But the U.S. Army is reluctant to divert any of its counter-terrorism forces for an African pacification mission. Such an operation would require a lot of aircraft support, and other troops to establish bases. Instead, the hunt for Kony will be assisted, not carried out, by AFRICOM.
The LRA was one of several religious movements to emerge from the Acholi tribe of northern Uganda three decades ago. One was founded by a cousin of Kony, but the LRA was much more violent than the other Acholi religious movements. The use of child soldiers (using kids kidnapped or taken by killing the parents), enslaving people (to be pack animals, cooks and sexual prey for the gunmen) and looting their way across Central Africa, provided the means to keep Kony going. The charismatic and clever Kony is at the heart of the LRA. It is believed that the advice, training and coordination provided by a hundred American Special Forces, plus American air transport and aerial reconnaissance, might be the key to bringing Kony down, and ending the LRA nightmare.