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

Yemen Brings US, Iran Closer to Naval Face-off

US sending two more ships to waters off coast of Yemen to take part in 'maritime security operations' More

Minorities Become Majority Across US

From 2000 to 2013, minorities became the majority in 78 counties in the United States. Here's where those demographic shifts are happening More

Japan's Maglev Train Breaks Own Speed Record

Seven-car 'magnetic levitation' train traveled at more than 600 kilometers per hour during test run Tuesday 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.
New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Paini
X
Shelley Schlender
April 20, 2015 7:03 PM
Pain has a purpose - it can stop you from touching a flame or from walking on a broken leg. As an injury heals, the pain goes away. Usually. But worldwide, one out of every five people suffers from pain that lasts for months and years, leading to lost jobs, depression, and rising despair when medical interventions fail or health experts hint that a pain sufferer is making it up. From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Italy Rescues Migrants After Separate Deadly Capsize Incident

Italy continued its massive search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Monday for the capsized boat off the coast of Libya that was carrying hundreds of migrants, while at the same time rescuing Syrian migrants from another vessel off the coast of Sicily. Thirteen children were among the 98 Syrian migrants whose boat originated from Turkey on the perilous journey to Europe.
Video

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs