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.
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.
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.
US President Obama has sent 100 special forces soldiers to east Africa to help stop the LRA.
The President says this deployment is the fulfillment of an obligation in the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, and that the goal is to remove the LRA leader, Joseph Kony, and other senior commanders from the battlefield.
It is claimed that the soldiers will merely be helping local forces with intelligence, and will not engage the LRA unless they themselves are fired upon.
This makes me wonder whether or not these troops will “coincidentally” end up in the path of Kony, sparking a showdown that will see him captured or killed.
But is this the right thing to do?
Non-profit organisation Invisible Children, who raise awareness of the conflict, seem to think so.
But others have argued, with some reason, that because the LRA is largely made up of abducted children, it isn’t right to send soldiers after them.
On another note, some think that President Obama has ulterior motives that are not humanitarian when it comes to this deployment.
It has been speculated that taking out the LRA is America’s reward to Uganda for its participation in the fight against the Islamic extremist group al-Shabab in Somalia.
Elizabeth Allen thinks that America would like to remove the LRA as a possible tool of the Sudanese government in destabilising the newly formed South Sudan.
Even when considering these other issues, I would still support the President’s move.
Every other method to try to stop the LRA has so far failed, and people on the ground with the technology and expertise to actually find Kony can only be a good thing.
And if this means that America get some by-products that they might welcome?
Well, who dares wins.
There is one major caveat to this of course.
Previous military action against the LRA failed to protect the civilian population, leaving Kony’s gang the freedom to kill hundreds of innocent people in retaliation.
This cannot be allowed to happen again.
It was celebrated as a decisive victory in the war on terror – the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the man behind the 9/11 attacks on America.
Osama bin Laden: no longer a threat
The circumstances were extraordinary.
He had been found in a compound far inside Pakistan, a supposed ally of the U.S, not more than minutes away from a major Pakistani Army facility.
A team of American Navy SEALs crossed the border from Afghanistan in stealth helicopters, undetected until well after they had taken out their target and made good their escape.
If they can do this in Pakistan, how hard could it be to do the same to take out an African warlord in a country that would welcome such an intervention?
It could even be argued that America has committed itself to capturing or killing Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, to a further extent than they had with bin Laden.
It should not be forgotten that President Obama signed that goal into law.
Ask a Black Bloke
So what lessons can be learned from the bin Laden raid to help with capturing Kony?
The most important must be the impact of having people on the ground, actively searching.
Bin Laden’s compound, it is understood, was watched by CIA agents for months before the raid.
Yet little or no effort seems to have been made by American forces to locate Kony.
When she asked the UK Foreign Office if they knew where Kony was, they had no idea.
Yet local people did, and no-one had asked them.
Bussman knows this is critical.
In an interview with CNN, she calls it the “ask a black bloke” strategy.
Pretty simple really.
A new campaign involving the non-profit Invisible Children could help with this.
They are raising funds to build radio towers in the affected area, so that communities can warn others of an LRA attack and share intelligence on where the group actually is.
Another piece of technology that was probably used in the hunt for bin Laden was the unmanned aerial vehicle known as the Reaper.
They’ve mainly be used to strike targets in Somalia and Yemen, but could be a good option in the skies over the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the LRA are hiding.
For example, if an LRA attack was reported (perhaps through the radio towers) a Reaper drone could be used to follow the rebels back to their base, potentially where Kony could be hiding.
Special forces could then be used for a similar operation as the one that killed bin Laden.
While this seems like an easy solution, it, as ever, comes down to question of will.
Perhaps now that the U.S. have taken down public enemy number one, they’ll have the focus to remove a man who still terrorizes a huge swathe of the African continent.