Africans join forces to fight the LRA
Southern Sudan, Uganda, and Congo launched operation Lightning Thunder this week to flush the Lord's Resistance Army out of its base in northern Congo.
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The joint operation, called Lightning Thunder, had originally been designed as a containment operation to keep Kony's forces within the Garamba forest, according to documents of the UN peacekeeping force in Congo (MONUC). The armies of Southern Sudan and Uganda would block their border areas to Kony's escape, while the Congolese Army and UN peacekeepers move northward to squeeze the LRA's room for maneuver.Skip to next paragraph
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That plan appears to have been altered, as Ugandan helicopter gunships and MIG-23s bombed five of the LRA camps inside Congolese territory, including Kony's base camp. Ugandan troops have since crossed into Congolese territory and overrun the camps.
While the operation appears successful in its narrow goal of denying Kony a haven, few military experts believe that the operation will finish off the LRA, even if Kony and his senior command are captured or killed.
"If you look at the LRA, who they are, if they've got 200 supporters, that's a lot, and some of them have probably slipped into CAR by now," says Henri Boshoff, a security analyst with the Institute for Security Studies in Tshwane, as Pretoria is now called.
An estimated 2,200 Congolese troops are involved in Lightning Thunder. "You only really need a special forces unit or well-trained infantry to do this job," says Mr. Boshoff. "So yes, you can destroy the LRA by military means, but not with the Congolese Army. They are not up to the task."
Whither political solutions?
Mirroring the complex military task of defeating the LRA in the jungle is an equally complex political task of addressing their political demands.
The LRA has changed its ethnic makeup over the past 20 years. In the beginning, it was a militia for expressing the grievances of northern Ugandans marginalized by the central government.
Today, the bulk of its members come from Southern Sudan, expressing grievances against the ethnic domination of one ethnic group, the Dinkas, over other tribes.
Many experts suspect the northern Sudanese government in Khartoum of supporting the LRA as a proxy against the separatist government of Southern Sudan.
In Kampala, Ugandan human rights activists have condemned the operation for failing to give the peace process enough time to succeed.
"It is unfortunate," Bishop John Baptist Odama, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Gulu, Uganda, told the IRIN news agency. "The state we had reached was merely to agree and iron out the ICC [International Criminal Court] indictments. We thought that they will wait and then we find a better way forward."
But Ugandan officials say that after 20 years of brutal civil war, they have been patient long enough.
"The operations were also prompted by the LRA's failure to sign the peace deal," Ugandan Army spokesman Paddy Ankunda told IRIN. "As far as we are concerned, the peace was suspended" after Kony refused to surrender.