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
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

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party 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.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs