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US Government: LRA Mission Is In ‘National Interest’, Not ‘Strategic Interest’

The recent deployment of US troops to help with the hunt for Joseph Kony is of no strategic interest to America, but is in the country’s national interest.

That’s the view of Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, who was speaking at the United States Institute of Peace on Wednesday as part of a discussion on US policy towards the LRA.

Asst. Sect. Carson after speaking at the USIP

Around 100 American soldiers are in the Central-East Africa region advising regional forces on how to track the LRA.

Mr Carson was particularly keen to scotch any ‘conspiracy theories’ that the mission is for any other reason than to stop the rebel group’s nearly three-decade long reign of terror.

Malcolm Webb reports for al-Jazeera on the US deployment

His full address can be read here, but these are some of the highlights:

  • Anti-LRA legislation in the US is down to the activism of young people
  • Joseph Kony will use any chance to kill and abduct to replenish his forces
  • “this is not an open-ended commitment”, there will be regular review of US troop deployment to C. Africa
  • US troops are “sensitive to the challenge of civilian protection
  • 2 US personnel are working with MONUSCO, the UN mission in the region
  • There is no military-only solution to the LRA problem

Another revealing point was that Mr Carson felt that should Kony be captured, he should be tried in a Ugandan court rather than at the International Criminal Court.

This is a legacy of America’s decision not to sign up to the ICC, whose first arrest warrant was for the LRA leader.

Also speaking on the panel were William Bellamy, the director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, and Michael Poffenberger from Resolve (see his take on the event here).

The panel (L-R): Johnnie Carson, William Bellamy, Michael Poffenberger

Mr Bellamy wondered if this operation was America getting over its “Black Hawk Down syndrome” and welcoming that if it is.

He also raised concerns that the US might pull out prematurely if results were not seen quickly.

Mr Poffenberger provided perhaps the most frank statements of the day.

He argued that the LRA do not feel under any imminent threat, citing evidence that temporary homes had been built for senior LRA commanders to stay in for up to a month at a time.

While thanking the Obama administration for its actions so far, he warned that the job has not nearly been finished yet.

But perhaps the most striking point from the Resolve director was that Kony has already outlasted four US Presidents.

Interestingly, the panel were reluctant to discuss the possibility of using drones to target Kony, although Assistant Secretary Carson did mention that the terrain where Kony is hiding out would make that difficult.

Watching all of these remarks was a large audience including ambassadors from the countries in the affected region.

Ambassador Stanislas Moussa-Kemble from the Central African Republic nodded solemnly as Assistant Secretary Carson described the atrocities the LRA are committing in the area.

I managed to grab an interview with Ambassador Dickson Ogwang from Uganda on what he thought of the US deployment:

Dickson Ogwang talks to Adam Bearne about the US troops

When politicians talk about the LRA, even if they are slightly misinformed, I usually welcome the attention being given to the crises.

This event was even more important as it was the highest-level State Department commentary on the LRA crisis since the US legislation was passed.


Kony back in the Congo

It seems that LRA leader Joseph Kony, wanted by the International Criminal Court, is back in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


Joseph Kony

Since the beginning of the year, LRA attacks have increased, killing civilians, abducting more and displacing tens of thousands of others.

In one province alone, the UNHCR has recorded 52 raids since January, killing 35 people, with over 100 abducted and 17,000 forced to leave their homes.

They report that the LRA are still using their horrific methods of terror:

“Attacks are often accompanied by extreme cruelty, including murder, mutilation, or amputation of the lips and ears – apparently aimed at terrorizing people with a view to displacing entire populations.”

The UNHCR also reports a worrying new trend – a shift from attacks on small rural locations, to larger attacks on more populated areas.

The Enough Project speculate that Kony’s move into the DRC along with other commanders could be an attempt to regroup in the country.

A peaceful end to the violence look as unlikely as ever, with the Ugandan armed forces again ruling out further peace talks.

They say that they will use force to defeat the rebels. The Ugandan People’s Defence Force say they have degraded the LRA’s communication network, forcing them to send messages by courier rather than by radio.

However, the disjointed nature of the LRA was again shown by an attack in the Central African Republic, as reported by AFP (translation).

The UPDF say the conflict will only end if Kony signs the peace deal that’s already on the table. Yet the offer has been open since 2008, and has never looked likely to be accepted.

The role of Invisible Children

In their own words, Invisible Children are a social, political and global movement using the transformative power of story to change lives.

But what relevance does a charity started by three guys from California have on a situation that spawned in the heart of Africa?

Invisible Children (IC) aim to raise awareness of the atrocities of the LRA and bring about pressure to end their reign of terror.

But there has been a lot of criticism of the group.

The main worry is that the films IC produce focus too much on the filmmakers themselves and that it over-simplifies the complex problems face by those in the path of the LRA.

I would tend to agree with that, but would defend it nevertheless.

IC have raised millions of dollars for projects ‘on the ground’ in Uganda. This money comes predominantly from young people.

To connect with a lot of young people (I include myself in this category), you need to speak our language.

Invisible Children Roadies in Sydney

Young people in the developed world, especially those who have never been to Africa, will never be able to see the problems there through the eyes of the people of Uganda.

The filmmakers give the situation a face that young people can relate to.

Whatever criticism can be thrown at IC’s method, anything that helps the situation is surely beneficial.