A new assessment has been released on efforts to end LRA rebel attacks in central and east Africa. The Enough Project says despite the deployment of U.S. advisers, current operations lack resources and troops.
Enough Project field researcher Kasper Agger spent several weeks in the region affected by LRA attacks. He said in the first three months of this year, there were more than 50 attacks, 9 deaths, 90 abductions and the continued displacement of nearly 450,000 civilians. Agger, who’s based in Kampala, Uganda, titled his report Mission in the Balance.
“I wanted to give it that title to stress that despite progress on the ground we are still far from seeing an end to the LRA. So I wanted to stress some kind of urgency,” he said.
The Enough Project is an advocacy group working to end genocide and crimes against humanity.
In April, President Obama extended the deployment of U.S. advisers, who are helping in the hunt for the LRA.
Agger said, “They have [made] progress on the ground in terms of trying to create better intelligence, improved the cooperation between the armies that are involved, but there’s only so much that these advisers can do. They are not taking an active part in the fight. They are not the guys who are ultimately going to fight the LRA.”
Nevertheless, he said, their presence in the region is important.
“They have reenergized, especially the Ugandan army, but also the army in the Central African Republic. For them it’s the recognition that now there’s someone from the outside who is actually caring about the mission and who is there on the ground working with them. And also they do have some planes that fly over that take photos and are slowing starting to get more information about the operational pattern of the LRA,” he said.
He said the advisers faced many logistical problems in the beginning because the region there in is both remote and huge.
The Enough Project report said there are probably three main LRA groups in the DRC and a number of smaller groups that are launching attacks. As for the whereabouts of LRA leader Joseph Kony, there are many reports and rumors of late. They place him in northern Central African Republic or even southern Darfur.
Bigger, broader offensive needed
Current anti-LRA efforts, said Agger, need to be strengthened if the rebel group is to be stopped.
“First of all, the countries that are involved need to come together. That’s the basis of ending the LRA. At the moment we have a situation, for example, where the Ugandan troops are not allowed to enter Congolese territory and they are also prohibited from entering certain parts of the Central African Republic, especially in the northern part of the country where we suspect that Kony is hiding out at the moment,” he said.
However, he added a lot more is needed than greater regional cooperation. He also recommended many more boots on the ground.
“We estimate currently that the Ugandans, which [are] the most capable force in pursuit of the LRA, has around 800 forces on the ground, which is no [way] near the number that we need. But it’s not only just a matter of the troops, it’s also a matter of scaling-up radio messages, early warning networks and send- out messages to [the] LRA in the bush that they can actually come home and they can be reintegrated. And they can be reconciled with their communities,” he said.
His research indicates many LRA fighters want to leave the ranks, but they fear retribution. He disagreed with those who say the rebel group is operating in survival mode.
“No, I don’t agree to that because it gives a sense that the problem is over. And I don’t want people to believe that the LRA is over. The LRA is a very, very intelligent rebel group and they know the game. My sense of what is happening at the moment is that the LRA is trying to lay low and they do know what’s going on,” he said.
The Enough Project researcher wrote, “The disturbing fact is that the LRA continues to operate freely in the border areas between the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan. It was formerly based in northern Uganda where it fought government forces for decades. It finally left the region in 2006.