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AFRICOM Commander on LRA: “A lot of work yet to do”

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AFRICOM Commander on LRA: “A lot of work yet to do”

Posted by Ashley Benner on August 8, 2011

AFRICOM Commander on LRA: “A lot of work yet to do”

The commander of U.S. Africa Command, or AFRICOM, recently spoke about the commitment of the United States to apprehending Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony and acknowledged that there is “a lot of work yet to do.” Meeting with Ugandan reporters at AFRICOM headquarters, Commander General Carter F. Ham said that the priority is stopping Kony. “The preferred way to do this is to capture him and bring him to justice,” Ham said.

During a week-long visit to AFRICOM headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, Ugandan television and newspaper reporters met with General Ham and other senior military leaders and were briefed on a range of the command’s programs, in the context of its increased military-to-military engagement with Uganda.

The U.S. has been providing logistical and intelligence support to the current Ugandan-led military operations against the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA. As mandated by the historic LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, the Obama administration developed a strategy to end the LRA threat, which outlines apprehending Kony and his senior leadership as a key objective. However, the operations have largely failed to apprehend top LRA commanders and protect civilians from attacks by the brutal group.

The Ugandan press corps’ visit to AFRICOM headquarters was the eighth trip organized by the command for African press delegations to promote understanding of the U.S. military’s role on the continent. Ugandan soldiers make up the bulk of the African Union peacekeeping force currently deployed in Somalia – a key country for U.S. counterterrorism efforts – which likely explains the choice of targeting Ugandan journalists with the visit to HQ.

But in the course of the briefing, General Ham made some remarks about the challenges posed by the LRA that underscore the need for robust U.S. support to end this nearly decade-long crisis. He said that efforts to apprehend Kony are:

[N]ot going as well as we hope it should be. There are some small successes but there are also some setbacks. So we have a lot of work yet to do in this regard. As you know, this is a hunt for one man with a small number of his followers in a very extensive geographic area. So it’s kind of tough.

He continued that the regional coalition “may be able to capture him, though the process may be longer than we may want.” The AFRICOM head said that he is encouraged by the commitment of Uganda and Congo to the operations. The U.S. role, he said, is to support the regional coalition and facilitate information-sharing between the four armies, but the U.S. “will not have a leading role on the ground.”

Ham has spoken before about the importance of countering the LRA and locating Kony.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Africa at the Department of Defense Vicki Huddleston delivered testimony to the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights on July 26 that briefly mentioned AFRICOM efforts to end the LRA:

In response to Congressional legislation State, DoD, and USAID have developed a strategy to assist the governments and the armed forces in Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic to counter the atrocities that are being committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). AFRICOM’s activities will improve the regional armed forces ability to defeat the LRA. In parallel, USAID and State are working with local NGOs.

The recent public references to the new U.S. strategy on the LRA are encouraging signs that the issue is on the radar for U.S. civilian and military officials alike, but almost nine months after the plan was unveiled, the U.S. does not have enough to show for the new approach. With plans underway for the African Union to lead a new mission to eliminate the LRA, the Obama administration has an opening to take a hard look at the effectiveness of its anti-LRA efforts so far and reassert its leadership and support for a strong strategy that prioritizes apprehension, promoting defections, and civilian protection.

Photo: General Ham briefs Ugandan journalists (AFRICOM)