MS Risk Blog

After 6 Years, US Troops End Search for Kony

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US Special Forces announced on 26 April that they will being pulling out of the Central African Republic (CAR), where they deployed in 2011 in a bid to hunt the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) warlord Joseph Kony. The move, which was first announced in March, will se US troops pulling out of the country’s eastern region, where they have been helping Ugandan forces track down rebels from the feared LRA.

During a telephone briefing in mid-April, General Thomas Waldhauser, head of the US military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM), disclosed that “the time has come to move forward because the organization itself is really in a survival mode.”

In 2010, the US passed a law to deploy around 100 Special Forces to work with regional armies in hunting down Kony. While it is withdrawing, despite the rebel leader remaining at large, Kony’s power has much diminished. His current whereabouts remain unknown but his forces have been hit by a constant stream of defections, deaths and surrenders of both foot-soldiers and commanders. Small LRA groups continue to carry out attacks, mostly on villages in the border regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), CAR, South Sudan and Sudan.

Joseph Kony

For the past three decades, rebel commander Kony has sowed terror across four African countries, evading capture by US and Ugandan soldiers. The former Catholic altar boy became one of Africa’s most notorious rebels at the head of his LRA, combining religious mysticism with an astute guerrilla mind and bloodthirsty ruthlessness.

A member of Uganda’s northern Acholi ethnic group, Kony attended primary school before taking up arms in and around 1987. He would follow in the footsteps of another rebel, Alice Auma Lakwena, a former prostitute who is believed to have been either his cousin or aunt. Lakwena, who died in exile in Kenya in early 2007, believed that she could channel the spirits of the dead. She also told her followers that the holy oil she gave them could stop bullets.

Kony has claimed that the Holy Spirit has issued orders to him on everything from military tactics to personal hygiene, terrifying his subordinates into obedience.

Kony’s insurgency claimed to be fighting to overthrow the Ugandan government and impose a regime based on the Bible’s Ten Commandments. He claims that it was launched to defend the Acholi people against Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who seized power from northern military rulers at the head of a rebel army in 1986. The insurgency has killed more than 100,000 people and abducted 60,000 children who were forced to become sex slaves, soldiers and porters. Despite widespread northern resentment against President Museveni, Kony’s policy of abductions soon lost him the support of local groups, who suffered during the government’s brutal war against the LRA. While Kony, who is thought to be in his 50s, has said that he has not committed any atrocities, ex-LRA abductees say that they were forced to maim and kill friends, neighbours and relatives and participate in gruesome rites such as drinking their victims’ blood.

During the 1990s, the LRA conflict split into neighbouring countries after the Sudanese government in Khartoum began backing the group in retaliation for Uganda’s support of southern Sudanese rebels battling for independence. When Sudan signed a peace deal with the southern rebels in 2005, support for the LRA effectively dried up, after and after being force into the neighbouring DRC by the Ugandan army, Kony agreed to peace talks. In 2005, the self-proclaimed prophet, and four of his deputies, were the first people to be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity. This move however impacted attempts to reach a peace agreement. Negotiations dragged on and, amidst mutual distrust and anxiety over the ICC warrant, Kony repeatedly failed to turn up to sign the deal. Since the 2005 indictment, only one commander, Dominic Ongwen, is currently on trial while the three others are believed to have been killed.

In late 2011, following growing pressure from US campaigners, President Barack Obama deployed US Special Forces troops to help regional armies track down Kony. While in March the following year, Kony surged to unexpected worldwide prominence as a result of a hugely popular Internet video, the Kony2012 film, which called for his capture, popular interest quickly waned and despite the increased pressure, after more than thirty years in the bush, Kony remain a master of evasion. He has ditched satellite telephones in favor of runners to communicate and has lived off wild roots and animals.