Editor’s Note: This post is part of the series Enough 101, intended to provide a contextual background for understanding the complex issues that the Enough Project works on.
This post is the fourth in the Central African Republic series. Read Part 1: “Central African Republic: 90 Years of Chaos, 1903-1993,” Part 2: “Central African Republic: Mutinies, Civil Wars, and a Coup, 1993-2003,” and Part 3: “Central African Republic: Diamonds, Darfur, and Democracy, 2003-2011.”
Decades of turmoil and the lack of stable governance, combined with its precarious location in the middle of central Africa, has made the Central African Republic, or CAR, an ideal refuge for Joseph Kony’s rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA.
According to The New York Times:
The Central African Republic would be an excellent place to hide. Its national army is one of the region’s smallest and weakest. Its terrain is primordially thick. And its infrastructure is shambolic.
CAR has also provided largely unimpeded access for the LRA into Sudan, where it has in the past received safe haven, arms, ammunition, and other support from the Sudanese government.
March 2012 OCHA map displaying LRA attacks in CAR since 2010
In 2006, the LRA was first spotted in eastern CAR near the border of Sudan (now South Sudan), but the militia’s first reported attack in CAR was not until February 2008 when it raided Obo, a town along the southeastern border with Congo.
In 2009 and 2010, increasing numbers of LRA fighters were reportedly seen in southeastern CAR near Obo, as well as northeastern CAR near the South Sudan border. This influx of the LRA in CAR was in large part due to Operation Lightning Thunder, a failed Ugandan-led joint military offensive in eastern Congo in 2008 and 2009,which resulted in LRA forces separating and some fleeing to CAR.
Security Vacuum: the U.N., U.S. Military Advisors, and African Union in CAR
LRA attacks increased just as the UN Mission in Central African Republic and Chad, or MINURCAT, began drawing down its forces in 2010, leaving even more of a security vacuum in the already insecure region.
In anticipation of MINURCAT’s withdrawal, the UN dispatched another mission to CAR in January 2010. The Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic, or BINUCA, focuses on peacebuilding, ensuring stable governance, and disarmament of former militias. BINUCA’s mandate was extended in December 2011 to include reporting on LRA attacks and supporting demobilization and disarmament activities for LRA combatants; however, no BINUCA personnel have been deployed to the LRA-affected areas to date and the UN does not have offices in any of CAR’s eastern provinces.
In late 2011, as a result of U.S. legislation to end the LRA, the U.S. deployed approximately 100 military advisors and personnel to CAR, Congo, South Sudan, and Uganda to assist militaries in the region in apprehending LRA senior leadership, protecting civilians, and encouraging defections from the LRA. After reviewing the advisors’ first 150 days of deployment, on April 23, 2012, President Obama announced that the mission will remain in the area to continue supporting regional forces in tracking down the LRA. In southeastern CAR, the U.S. forces are based in Obo and Djema.
The U.S. troops have run into many difficulties. The area is almost entirely inaccessible, with no high frequency radio or mobile phone service, making it difficult for locals to report attacks, and enabling the guerilla-style LRA forces to operate with little interference. However, the U.S. mission reports that Kony is “on the run” and that the LRA is in “survival mode.”
Recently, there have been contradicting reports on Kony’s whereabouts—the Ugandan army asserts that he is in South Sudan, Sudan, or CAR, while U.S. troops think he is hiding in CAR. Additionally, there have been reports that two other LRA leaders, wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes, are hiding in CAR with an estimated 100 fighters. On March 24, 2012, the African Union announced that a new Ugandan-led Regional Task Force, or RTF—including troops from CAR, Congo, and South Sudan—which will be based in South Sudan and have forces in both South Sudan and CAR. This 5,000 troop-brigade will take up the mission of capturing Kony as part of the African Union Regional Cooperation Initiative against the LRA, or RCI-LRA. Uganda currently has between 600 and 800 troops in CAR, working with the CAR army to track Kony.
Recent Attacks by the Numbers
From January through March 2012, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, reported a rise in LRA activities in CAR. Over a three-month period, there were 20 reported LRA attacks resulting in six deaths and 39 abductions, compared with a total of 24 attacks in all of 2011. As of March 2012, 20,362 people were displaced within CAR because of the LRA, and 5,361 Congolese displaced by the LRA were living in CAR as refugees.
According to the LRA Crisis Tracker the most recent LRA attack in CAR was on April 16, 2012.
Recent attacks have mostly occurred near the CAR-Congo border where security presence is minimal and tracking troops and attacks is difficult. In March, two attacks occurred in northeastern CAR, not far from the border with Sudan.
Even with the new international presence, eastern CAR is too large and the combined military forces are too small to adequately protect civilians. The CAR military has deployed approximately 100 soldiers to the vast eastern region—often leaving two to ten ill-equipped soldiers with limited transport and communications means to protect entire towns, while others have no soldiers at all.
One exception to the rule has been the city of Obo. Since the U.S. deployment in October, patrols around Obo by the CAR-Ugandan armed forces supported by the U.S. military advisors have allowed local authorities to secure a 25-km radius around the city, enabling residents to tend their farms.
In order to adequately protect civilians, more troops are direly needed. The advisors and the regional militaries should develop and implement a clear strategy to prevent reprisal attacks and engage in hot pursuit to free abductees.