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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Srebrenica Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs countermeasure at UN More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs