U.S. officials cite challenges to capturing Joseph Kony
A file picture taken on November 12, 2006 of LRA leader Joseph Kony answering journalists' questions at Ri-Kwamba, in Southern Sudan.
April 24th, 2012
10:09 PM ET

U.S. officials cite challenges to capturing Joseph Kony

By Jamie Crawford

Capturing and bringing to justice the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, a group terrorizing a large portion of central Africa, will be a challenge, officials from the Obama administration told a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday.

Speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on African affairs, officials on Tuesday said the task of stopping Joseph Kony is complicated by the region's vast and inhospitable terrain, along with the difficulty of coordinating the efforts of four partner nations' armies and gathering and sharing intelligence.

"Ending the LRA threat is not an easy mission," said Donald Yamamoto, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs. "The LRA operates in very small groups across vast territories, roughly the size of California and very heavily forested."

Since being pushed out of its previous stronghold in Northern Uganda in 2006, Kony and his lieutenants have been accused of continuing their abduction of children to serve as LRA soldiers in a campaign of rape, torture and murder across central Africa.

The LRA gained worldwide notoriety earlier this year when a video about the group went viral on the Internet.

On Monday, President Barack Obama announced that approximately 100 military advisers - mostly special forces - would continue their efforts in the region to assist in the hunt for Kony, after the National Security Counsel reviewed the mission, which began in October 2011.

The U.S. military is working, in a mostly advisory role, with forces from Uganda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, with the collective goal of capturing Kony and taking down the LRA.

On Tuesday, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Amanda Dory told the Senate subcommittee that another challenge is managing expectations "on how quickly we'll succeed" in the operation, given all the variables.

U.S. military advisers in the region are assisting their partners to improve their effectiveness, the officials said.

The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2012 authorizes $35 million to provide for enhanced support, supplies and services for partner militaries searching for Kony.

Small teams of U.S. advisers are working with the Ugandan military in known LRA areas of the Central African Republic and South Sudan to set up operations centers to allow for daily coordination, information sharing and tactical coordination, the senators were told.

U.S. teams are also working with the U.N. mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo to connect the intelligence gathered by the mission in order to increase cross-border analysis and regional coordination on LRA movements.

"We believe our support is helping the partner forces to improve their operations, but they continue to face significant challenges in terms of their capabilities to quickly pursue LRA groups across this vast region," Dory said.

Efforts to establish an "integrated military force that can coordinate and cooperate is going to be tough," Yamamoto added.

The officials on the panel also praised the African Union's recent naming of a special envoy focused on the LRA issue.

Earl Gast, a senior official with the U.S. Agency for International Development, told the subcommittee that LRA violence has displaced hundreds of thousands of people. The U.S. government, Gast said, is coordinating efforts to reduce vulnerability to the LRA through programs such as the distribution of radios to warn neighboring communities of current LRA movements.

The officials and senators seemed to agree that human intelligence about Kony's movements, along with defections from his ranks, will play a pivotal role in his eventual capture.

"The defectors are a key part of the information picture," Dory said.

Yamamoto praised legislation sponsored by Sens. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, and Chris Coons, D-Delaware, that would expand the authority of the State Department's War Crimes Rewards program.

Two survivors of Kony's terror also spoke, giving emotional testimony about LRA atrocities.

Jacob Acaye, an LRA abductee at age 12 who saw his brother killed by Kony's forces, told the committee he was using the education he has received since his escape from captivity to eventually become a human rights lawyer.

"I'm calling upon the world to come up and join the youth who are advocating for the end of this war," he said.

Jolly Okot, another former abductee who is now an official with a nongovernmental organization, said, "I think the coming together of everyone around the world and focusing on this one man and bringing him out will also in the future cause fear to other people who might think they should stand up and rise and terrorize people."

Kony is often "underrated" as a leader, according to a 2011 Jane's report on the group. Kony has claimed to be possessed by spirits who dictate the group's strategy. Jane's notes that the tactic has served him well, enabling him to speak to followers who have mixed beliefs. By his portrayal as a medium with supernatural abilities, his authority becomes harder to question within the ranks.

The Lord's Resistance Army is sophisticated and less like the ragtag group of fighters it is sometimes portrayed as, Jane's says. It has benefited from the military experience of former Ugandan military officers and years of combat in Sudan.

International aid convoys and nongovernmental organizations operating in the region have been threatened by the group, according to numerous reports.

Last year, the State Department said, "Since 2008 alone, the LRA has killed more than 2,400 people and abducted more than 3,400. The United Nations estimates that over 380,000 people are displaced across the region because of LRA activity."

Kony says he is a prophet sent from God to replace the Ugandan government with a democracy based on the Ten Commandments.

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Filed under: Africa • Joseph Kony • Lords Resistance Army • Senate
soundoff (293 Responses)
  1. Serwan

    This episode at the ICC is soahwemt bizarre. In March last year, the pre-trial chamber issued the arrest warrant that the Prosecutor had requested. This made Pres. Bashir into a fugitive from justice. The crimes for which he is charged are no less heinous than genocide. Any additional charges added subsequently make absolutely no difference to that reality. The Prosecutor's decision to appeal against the exclusion of the genocide charges, while perfectly permissible in law, served only the purpose of satisfying the personal or political ambition of the Prosecutor. If the ICC ever succeeds in getting Pres. Bashir in Court, the Prosecutor can then add whatever charges he believes are warranted by the evidence. Insisting on them at this stage is a political act.The judges' decision illuminates a structural weakness in the ICC. The level of evidence required for an arrest warrant, including on the charge of genocide, has been set extremely low. The evidence produced in the request for the arrest warrant may be enough to satisfy the minimum procedural requirement of an arrest warrant but it is far from enough to mount any credible prosecution, and may not be enough to satisfy the judges at the confirm of charges hearing, if such a hearing is ever held (which would occur if Pres. Bashir actually appears before the court). Around the world, governmental lawyers are likely to ask themselves, if this is the standard of proof required for an ICC arrest warrant against a sitting head of state on the charge of genocide, who is also at risk?The fact that the decision comes just as the election campaign is about to be launched is likely to be inflammatory. It will confirm Pres. Bashir's conclusion, reached in 2008, that the only secure place for him is in the Republican Palace.

    October 13, 2012 at 12:11 am | Reply
  2. B

    How do these media organizations get high definition pictures of Kony? Someone with some sophistication must be coming close to him (I dont think the LRA themselves possess digital cameras, interenet and email addresses) but for some reason he's still alive. Great photography work.

    July 18, 2012 at 12:11 am | Reply
    • paul

      Those are old pictures. He hasn't been seen in years and is probably dead. This was all a scam by the US Government to justify putting troops on the ground in Africa. Kony never "terrorised large portions of central Africa". He operated in a few hundred square miles of the northern congo area.

      July 18, 2012 at 7:06 am | Reply
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