Expert Commentary

Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army: U.S. response

2012 report by the Congressional Research Service on the current status of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in central Africa and U.S. deployment to that region.

For 24 years, Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony has led the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a guerilla force that has committed atrocities against villages in four central African nations. In 2009, the U.S. Congress authorized the deployment of military personnel to support regional efforts to kill or capture senior LRA leaders, and in 2011 President Obama dispatched 100 U.S. service members into that theater. Recently, a viral video campaign by the U.S. charity Invisible Children — “Kony 2012” — has renewed focus on the region and the hunt for the LRA and its leader.

A 2012 report by the Congressional Research Service, “The Lord’s Resistance Army: The U.S. Response,” details the progress made following the U.S. “Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009.” It should be noted that in 2005-2006, Kony moved his forces out of Uganda to a border region between Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR) and what is now the Republic of South Sudan.

The report’s highlights include:

  • “The LRA’s numbers have reportedly greatly declined in recent years, from thousands of fighters in the late 1990s and early 2000s to a reported 150-200 ‘core combatants,’ traveling on foot and equipped with small arms. They travel in small bands, along with hundreds of former abductees who are forced to act as porters, scouts, sexual slaves and potentially junior fighters.”
  • “The LRA reportedly killed over 2,400 and abducted over 3,400 people between 2008 and mid-2011 alone. During 2011, an estimated 465,000 people in CAR, the DRC and South Sudan were displaced or living as refugees as a result of the LRA threat.”
  • Over the last two decades, the United States provided humanitarian assistance to northern Uganda for social and economic recovery of the war-torn area. As the LRA’s presence has expanded beyond Uganda, the United States has increased its engagement.
  • Since deployment was authorized in October 2011, U.S. forces have provided “information, advice and assistance to select partner nation forces.” While U.S. forces focus on assisting the Ugandan military, they also support the forces of CAR, South Sudan and DRC engaged in counter-LRA operations.
  • According to the State Department, “this is not an open-ended commitment; we will regularly review and assess whether the advisory effect is sufficiently enhancing our objectives to justify continued deployment.” Initial Defense Department estimates show that the operation costs approximately $4.5 million per month, not including salaries and personnel costs.
  • Persistent tensions between the Congolese and Ugandan militaries highlight regional dynamics that could be inflamed by a U.S. role in counter-LRA operations.

A March 2012 report by the State Department, “The Lord’s Resistance Army: Fact Sheet,” notes that the United States has “provided more than $560 million in humanitarian assistance specifically benefiting LRA-affected populations” between 2002-2011. Moreover, that report cites a UNICEF study that found “at least 66,000 children and youth had been abducted by the LRA between 1986 and 2005.”

A 2012 paper published in the journal African Affairs, “Dangerous Tales: Dominant Narratives in the Congo and Their Unintended Consequences,” provides a critical perspective on international efforts to address these issues, noting that certain policy oversimplifications may have actually led to an “increase in human rights violations.”

Tags: human rights, security, development, children, Africa