The broad-based effort to weaken Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)—and bring him to justice—continues to make progress. The most effective method for weakening the LRA has been to encourage defections, and there are probably fewer than 200 fighters left, down from 1,000 six years ago. The African Union Regional Task Force (AU-RTF), U.S. military advisors, and non-governmental organizations produce targeted personal messages from recent LRA returnees, local leaders, and the families and friends of remaining combatants. These messages are aired on local FM and shortwave radio stations and broadcast via helicopter speakers over known LRA locations. Two fighters who recently defected recorded “come home” messages at an April 1 symposium in the Central African Republic (CAR), hosted by U.S. Special Forces and the NGO, Invisible Children.
The interagency counter-LRA effort is also supporting improvements in the “early warning” system in CAR and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). On March 25 Marty Regan, the CSO member of the team since March, was in the remote village of Ango, DRC, where a cell phone tower had been erected to increase connectivity, enabling residents to notify authorities of LRA activity more quickly. “This should reduce communities’ isolation and help them share information about heightened threats posed by LRA groups in the area,” Regan explained. At an event marking the construction of the tower, U.S. Ambassador to DRC James Swan served as the keynote speaker.
In March, the U.S. Military deployed CV-22 Ospreys to enable the U.S. to move Ugandan troops further and more quickly to areas of suspected LRA activity. The Ospreys will be deployed for short periods of time to support AU-RTF operations. “The Ospreys provide another tool to disrupt LRA operations, and they demonstrate a greater AU-RTF presence to all in the area,” said Regan.
CSO’s primary role in the c-LRA engagement is to help coordinate the civilian and military efforts of the U.S. government, in addition to conducting outreach with NGOs and civil society. Splitting his time between the U.S. Embassy in Kampala and field locations in the four nations where LRA has been active, Regan helps to drive ground-level implementation of the U.S. strategy and to inform planning, policy implementation, and metrics in Washington.
“While challenging, working as a part of the c-LRA engagement brings a good deal of satisfaction in that you experience firsthand how a coordinated, whole-of-government approach can deliver results,” he explained.
The LRA has terrorized communities for 25 years, killing tens of thousands of people and maiming thousands more. Along the way, the LRA has filled its ranks by abducting tens of thousands of children and forcing them to become soldiers and sex slaves. In 2010, President Obama directed the Department of State, Department of Defense, and USAID to find a way to help governments and communities end the LRA’s reign of terror. President Obama called the LRA “an affront to human dignity,” saying that “those abducted must be freed, those wounded must heal, and those responsible must be brought to justice.”