Thank you to CSIS for this opportunity to speak about ongoing U.S. efforts to help the people and governments of central Africa to end the scourge of the Lord’s Resistance Army. As we all know, the LRA has been committing horrific atrocities and uprooting communities for 26 years now. Ending the LRA’s terror and helping communities to recover from the devastating impact will not be done overnight. It will take time and continued persistence. We greatly appreciate the continued efforts of NGOs, civil society groups, private foundations, and ordinary citizens to help in this struggle. A future free of the LRA is possible. And the United States believes it is in our interest to help our partners in the region realize that future.
Let me first stress two things before I provide an update on our current efforts. First, the United States is working to pursue a comprehensive, multi-faceted strategy in our support to the region. Our military support is one part of a broader effort that includes civilian approaches to encourage defections and support affected communities. Second, this is a multilateral effort. We are working closely with multilateral partners – the African Union, the European Union, and UN – to help the region end the LRA threat.
Over recent years, the militaries of Uganda, Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and South Sudan have undertaken efforts to pursue top LRA commanders and protect local populations. Each of these countries, especially Uganda, has dedicated significant human and material resources to carry out these efforts. We applaud their commitment and we have sought to support their efforts.
Since 2008, we have provided logistical support to help the Ugandan military sustain its forward operations against the LRA. We continue to fund airlift, fuel, and other transport support for its troops.
In the DRC, we trained and equipped a Congolese battalion that is now operating in LRA-affected areas of the DRC and working with the UN peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO. MONUSCO and the Congolese military recently carried out a joint operation to deter the LRA from committing massacres in the DRC during the Christmas season, as it had done in 2008 and 2009. As you may know, no large-scale attacks were reported this season. We are receiving positive reports about the performance of the DRC battalion we trained. We continue to fund two mentors who are working with this unit to support its operations.
In CAR and South Sudan, we are also providing some support to the military forces as they increase their counter-LRA efforts. We believe it is critical that the militaries in the region continue to work together to keep the pressure on the LRA and protect their citizens. As we have seen in the past, the LRA will exploit any reduction in military or diplomatic pressure to regroup and rebuild their forces.
In addition to this support, we are working to enhance the capacity of these militaries to accomplish their mission. In October, the President reported to Congress that he had authorized a small number of U.S. forces to deploy to the LRA-affected region to serve as advisors to the military forces pursuing the LRA. Small teams of U.S. military advisors are now working with the Ugandan military and national military forces in field locations in LRA-affected areas. In these locations, the advisors are building relationships with military officials and local authorities, promoting information-sharing, and helping with training and operational planning.
In the DRC, U.S. personnel are working with the Congolese military and MONUSCO at the Joint Intelligence and Operations Center in Dungu. They are helping these forces to plan their joint operations, including the recent operation that I mentioned to prevent large-scale attacks during the Christmas season. Our advisors are placing an emphasis on civilian protection and coordinating closely with the UN missions in the region.
We are also working with the African Union as it stands up its Regional Cooperation Initiative. We believe the AU can play a critical role in strengthening the collaboration of the affected states in the fight against the LRA. It is significant that leaders from across the African continent have come together to condemn the LRA’s atrocities and designate the LRA as a terrorist group.
At the same time, as I mentioned earlier, we are not just pursuing military approaches. Military efforts to counter the LRA constitute only one part of a broader strategy and must be complemented by civilian efforts.
We are working on programs to help affected communities develop early warning systems and increase information about LRA movements. In the DRC, we are funding a project to install cell towers and increase telecommunications capacity in LRA-affected areas. We are also funding projects to help several dozen remote communities in LRA-affected areas in the DRC develop protection plans and connect with other communities through a high-frequency radio network. In CAR, we are funding a new project to establish a community radio correspondents’ network, which will increase the availability of accurate information on the LRA for local communities.
In the last several months, we have seen an increase in the number of people defecting, escaping, or being released from the LRA’s ranks. This is a significant development. With our encouragement, the UN is undertaking enhanced efforts to ensure that these individuals are taken care of and given the necessary support for repatriation and reintegration. The UN is also increasing its efforts through leaflets and radio broadcasts to encourage LRA members to defect and return home. We believe these efforts are critical, and we are looking at ways we can supplement them to encourage more LRA to peacefully surrender. One of the sad realities of this situation is that many of the perpetrators of atrocities are victims themselves, abducted in their childhood and forced to fight.
According to the UN, there were 278 reported LRA attacks and over 300 abductions during 2011. The number of attacks and abductions appear to have decreased significantly in the second half of 2011. However, we are mindful that this does not necessarily mean the LRA’s capacity has diminished. The LRA continues to cast a wide shadow across the region because of its brutality and the fear it arouses in local populations. According to the UN, more than 465,000 people were displaced or living as refugees during 2011 as a result of the LRA threat.
We look forward to the day when LRA-affected areas will no longer need humanitarian assistance and can instead focus on development. In northern Uganda, which the LRA ravaged for two decades, that process has begun. With the LRA’s departure, northern Uganda has undergone a major transformation in just a few years. Ninety-five percent of the people who once lived in displacement camps have gone home to rebuild their lives. The United States is continuing to provide significant support – approximately $102 million in Fiscal Year 2011 – to help the people of northern Uganda, including many former LRA abductees, to rebuild their lives and communities.
Our support for northern Uganda’s recovery is part of our broader assistance to help Uganda address its most pressing challenges. We have a strong relationship with the people and government of Uganda, and we continue to work closely with them on a range of shared objectives, such as improving the quality and availability of healthcare; increasing agricultural production, nutrition, and food security; strengthening democratic institutions; promoting accountable governance; reinforcing respect for human rights; and advancing stability in Somalia, South Sudan, and across the region.
Our security cooperation with Uganda does not mean we turn a blind eye to Uganda's domestic problems. On the contrary, the breadth of our engagement with Uganda enables candid conversations about our areas of disagreement. We never hesitate to voice concern about efforts to restrict fundamental freedoms or the rights of opposition or minority groups. For example, in recent months we have made very clear, both publicly and privately, our concern about what we perceive to be a deteriorating human rights situation in Uganda and the implications for Uganda's long-term stability and democratic trajectory. We continue to urge the Ugandan Government to protect the rights of all of its citizens and to lay the groundwork for a future peaceful, democratic transfer of power.
It is Ugandans that will ultimately determine Uganda’s future, and Africans who will determine Africa’s future. But the United States is committed to being a steadfast partner as they stand up and work to secure a peaceful and prosperous future – whether in ending the LRA’s reign of terror, developing responsible security forces, or strengthening democratic institutions.