Editor's Note: This op-ed originally appeared on Globalpost.
A full rogues’ gallery of terrorists, war criminals, and dictators has been taken from the field this year: Osama Bin Laden, Ratko Mladic, Muammar Gadaffi, Laurent Gbagbo and others.
Now there is a real opportunity to add another name to this list by apprehending Joseph Kony, the brutal leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, the group which has plagued several central African countries for nearly 25 years and has killed tens of thousands and has abducted approximately 70,000 children and adults.
After years of ineffective military operations and several failed peace processes, US President Barack Obama’s announcement on October 14 that the US would deploy approximately 100 military personnel to the region should be seen as a critical new opportunity to bring an end to the LRA.
Obama's action has been welcomed by many human rights NGOs and it can be successful, if combined with a larger initiative by the US and other countries that addresses the inadequacies of current efforts and learns lessons from past mistakes. This initiative should have the goal of apprehending and bringing to justice Kony and his senior commanders, adequately protecting civilians, and ensuring that fighters and mid-level commanders leave the group.
While previous efforts, including 2008’s U.S.-supported “Operation Lightning Thunder,” have failed to end the LRA, there are good reasons to believe this time will be different. First, the U.S. military advisors will be forward deployed and more actively engaged than U.S. military personnel have been in previous efforts. Second, the African Union, or A.U., is planning a mission to end the LRA which faces serious challenges but, if bolstered, could provide a strong African partner for the U.S. and other countries wanting to help.
At this moment of opportunity, several things need to be done.
First, the US military advisors should be tasked with three critical roles. They should assist in developing and coordinating a targeted apprehension strategy, improve oversight of the operations’ planning and execution, and integrate civilian protection and disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration, or DDR, into their activities. In Operation Lightning Thunder, the US did not provide critical operational planning or commit to seeing the operation through.
Second, Obama should ensure that the operations have qualified and dedicated special forces to partner with in addition to the necessary intelligence and logistical support. The president should directly reach out to heads of state to secure forces from an African or other country. The US should provide a surge of the requisite intelligence capabilities to ensure real-time intelligence on the whereabouts and activity of the senior LRA leadership and potential threats to civilians, particularly through strengthening human intelligence networks, analysis, and synthesis. Obama should also engage his counterparts in European and other countries to obtain logistical support, including airlift and other transport.
Third, the US and others should vigorously engage with partners in and outside the region to ensure that the African Union mission is successful. In particular, the mission should not just re-hat current military operations by the regional forces. Also, the A.U. special envoy for the LRA could be invaluable in improving intra-regional relations, if empowered. The US and others should work closely with the special envoy as well as bilaterally address regional tensions.
Fourth, the protection gap urgently needs to be addressed. Civilian protection has to be prioritized, and apprehension operations should be fully integrated with protection and DDR efforts. In particular, protection from reprisal attacks and pursuing the LRA after attacks to free abductees are crucial. We have a great responsibility to protect civilians in the LRA’s reach. This also includes those who have been abducted and would likely be on the front lines fighting the special forces.
Now is the time when the LRA can be finally brought to an end — provided this broader initiative is quickly pursued. Let’s ensure that existing problems are remedied and hard-learned lessons are heeded. Let’s apprehend and bring to justice Kony and the senior LRA leadership, ensuring that civilians are protected and opportunities to convince rebels to leave the group are fully utilized. With the advisors’ deployment completed within the next few weeks, the US and others should act swiftly to fully grasp the opportunity at hand.
Photo: Leader of the Lord's Resistance Army Joseph Kony (Associated Press)