News / Africa

Central Africa Sees Endgame in LRA Conflict

On patrol in DRC, South Sudan and Central African Republic with the Ugandan Army, hunting for LRA rebels and their leader, Joseph Kony (file photo)
On patrol in DRC, South Sudan and Central African Republic with the Ugandan Army, hunting for LRA rebels and their leader, Joseph Kony (file photo)
Ivan Broadhead

For more than two decades, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has spread terror from its original stronghold in northern Uganda, murdering and raping its way across central Africa. In October, U.S. President Barack Obama ordered a 100-strong U.S. military contingent deployed to provide intelligence and technical assistance to help Uganda and its neighbors finally stop the LRA. Ivan Broadhead joined up with the Ugandan army this month to see how the hunt for the LRA and its leader, Joseph Kony, is progressing.

The 31st Battalion of the Ugandan Army has just been dropped at its forward operating position in the forests of Central Africa.  These men are here to hunt for the LRA.  To avoid detection and enemy gunfire, our helicopter flew just 50 meters above the forest canopy that extends for hundreds of square kilometers around us.  Hiding in these forests are LRA insurgents, and of course, their leader, Joseph Kony, wanted by the International Criminal Court since 2005 for crimes against humanity.”

Colonel B briefs the 31st Ugandan Battalion (file photo)
Colonel B briefs the 31st Ugandan Battalion (file photo)

For security reasons, our exact location cannot be revealed. However, the Ugandan army, or UPDF, has been crisscrossing the forests of the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan in its search for Kony - a self-declared prophet who has said he is on a mission to purify Uganda by overthrowing the government and setting up a theocracy based on mix of Christian and local ideals.

Those ideals have not been evident in one of Africa’s most brutal conflicts, in which the LRA has kidnapped thousands of children to use as soldiers and sex slaves and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

Colonel Joseph Balikuddembe is the UPDF field commander. In the last three years, his men have rescued 469 children abducted by the LRA. He describes what he is up against.

“Whenever engaged, they tend to split into smaller groups of 10, 15, even five. But we are able to engage them before they completely disappear. The UPDF is not good news for Kony. They are continuing to be depleted by our operations,” he said.

Col B briefs senior officers on the most recent engagements with the LRA, spanning DRC, Central African Rep. and S. Sudan. The map was marked "Secret" so we blurred it a bit (file photo)
Col B briefs senior officers on the most recent engagements with the LRA, spanning DRC, Central African Rep. and S. Sudan. The map was marked "Secret" so we blurred it a bit (file photo)

The current strength of the LRA has been whittled down to an estimated several hundred devoted and elusive fighters. U.S. military technical assistance is expected to aid with satellite imagery to help locate LRA units deep in the bush.

Such intelligence would certainly be valuable, as I discovered on patrol with Balikuddembe’s men at an undisclosed location in the Central African Republic. Within minutes it was all too apparent how impenetrable these forests are - and what a haven they represent to the LRA.

This is thick, thick foliage. I’m absolutely soaking wet. I’ve lost the soldiers. Where are they? They’re five yards ahead of you and you wouldn’t know they are there. These guys are laden down with kit but the speed they move through the forest is remarkable. It really does give you a sense of what the Ugandan army has taken on in terms of a commitment. They are in another country’s forests. They have fine equipment, but not advanced like American and NATO equipment. But what they do have is incredibly skilled soldiers who, just watching them, my goodness, they know the bush.

An Ugandan soldier on patrol, searching for the elusive Lord's Resistance Army (file photo)
An Ugandan soldier on patrol, searching for the elusive Lord's Resistance Army (file photo)

Some observers question the timing of the current U.S. intervention in the LRA conflict, ascribing the initiative to either electioneering by President Obama, or U.S. interest in Uganda’s recent discovery of oil.

But most people in central Africa just want the LRA nightmare to end. Jolly Okot Andruvle is national director of Invisible Children, an aid group that supports LRA victims, and is herself a former child abductee - the victim of years of abuse by LRA commanders.

"As someone who grew up in this war as a child-soldier, I really appreciate the initiative of the U.S. Government to send troops. There are many civilian lives that are still in danger,” she said.

For child soldiers, the nightmare may never end. Richard Komakech Abwola is 20 years old now. But in 2006, when he was just 15, he was part of an LRA attack on Guatemalan U.N. peacekeepers in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Abwola describes his fear during the attack, how he and a dozen other children were ordered by their commanders to rush the Guatemalans' machine guns and kill the peacekeepers. Much later, Abwola says he fled the LRA for a life of peace. But, having been kidnapped when he was 11, he says he has little hope of ever learning a trade, and cannot remember what his mother and father look like.”

Although the arrival of U.S. military advisers has sparked hopes that an endgame to the LRA conflict might be in sight, it is a salutary reminder that the LRA has faced a multi-national coalition in the past.

After a joint military operation undertaken in 2008 by Uganda, the DRC and Sudan, the LRA emerged weakened but undefeated. Joseph Kony went on to mete out its revenge, bringing violence and death to yet more innocent communities across central Africa.

You May Like

Key Al-Shabab Commander Captured

Zakariye Ismail Hersi was captured in a raid Saturday morning in the town of El Wak near the border with Kenya More

Relations Between Pakistan, Afghanistan Key to Fighting Taliban

A Pakistani official tells VOA that anti-terrorism campaign has resulted in improved counter-terrorism cooperation with Afghanistan More

Malaysia PM Arrives Home to Lead Flood Response

Najib Razak announces nearly $145 million for flood-victim relief nationwide, which will be administered by the National Security Council More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Estimates Rising of Foreign Fighters in Iraq, Syriai
X
Jeff Seldin
December 24, 2014 11:38 PM
Foreign fighters are making more of a mark on the battles raging across Syria and Iraq than initially thought. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more.
Video

Video Estimates Rising of Foreign Fighters in Iraq, Syria

Foreign fighters are making more of a mark on the battles raging across Syria and Iraq than initially thought. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more.
Video

Video Russians Head Into Holiday Facing Economic Malaise

Russian preparations for the New Year holiday are clouded by economic recession and a tumbling currency, the ruble. Nonetheless, people in the Russian capital appear to be in a festive mood. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Mombasa in Holiday Tourism Slump Due to Security Fears

Kenya's usually popular beachside tourist destination of Mombasa is seeing a much slower holiday season this year due to fears of insecurity as the country has suffered from a string of terror attacks linked to Somali militants. Mohammed Yusuf reports for VOA on how businessmen and tourists feel about the situation.
Video

Video For Somalis, 2014 Marked by Political Instability Within Government

While Somalia has long been torn apart by warfare and violence, this year one of the country's biggest challenges has come from within the government, as political infighting curtails the country's progress, threatens security gains and disappoints the international community. VOA's Gabe Joselow report.
Video

Video US Political Shift Could Affect Iran Nuclear Talks

Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to resolve Iran’s nuclear crisis are continuing into 2015 after Iran and six world powers failed to agree by a November deadline. U.S. domestic politics, however, could complicate efforts to reach a deal in the new year. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video NYSE: The Icon of Capitalism

From its humble beginnings in 1792 to its status as an economic bellweather for the world, the New York Stock Exchange is an integral part of the story of America. VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from Wall Street.
Video

Video Islamic State Emergence Transforms Syria and Iraq in 2014

The emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as a potent force in early 2014 changed the dynamics of the region. Their brutal methods - including executions and forced slavery - horrified the international community, drawing Western forces into the conflict. It also splintered the war in Syria, where more than 200,000 Syrians have died in the conflict. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell looks back at a deadly year in the region -- and what 2015 may hold.
Video

Video Massive Study Provides Best Look at Greenland Ice Loss Yet

The Greenland ice sheet is melting faster than predicted, according to a new study released in the Proceedings of the National Academic of Sciences that combines NASA satellite data and aerial missions. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the finding means coastal communities worldwide could be at greater risk, sooner, from the impact of rising seas.
Video

Video US Marines, Toys for Tots Bring Christmas Joy

Christmas is a time for giving in the United States, especially to young children who look forward to getting presents. But some families don't have money to buy gifts. For nearly 70 years, a U.S. Marines-sponsored program has donated toys and distributed them to underprivileged children during the holiday season. VOA's Deborah Block tells us about the annual Toys for Tots program.
Video

Video France Rocked by Attacks as Fear of ISIS-Inspired Terror Grows

Eleven people were injured, two seriously, when a man drove his car into crowds of pedestrians Sunday night in the French city of Dijon, shouting ‘God is Great’ in Arabic. It’s the latest in a series of apparent ‘lone-wolf’ terror attacks in the West. Henry Ridgwell looks at the growing threat of attacks, which security experts say are likely inspired by the so-called "Islamic State" terror group.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid