Brutal retreat of LRA rebels in Congo
The joint mission to finish off the notorious Lord's Resistance Army has led to more than 900 deaths and displaced more than 1,330 civilians since it began nearly two months ago.
Ngilima, Democratic Republic of Congo
Nelson Ngamu is so weak that he can barely stand up.Skip to next paragraph
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Up until he was captured by Congolese troops three days earlier, Mr. Ngamu was a foot soldier in one of Africa's most brutal rebel groups, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). He was abducted from his village in South Sudan at age 12. After watching LRA rebels kill his family, over the next 11 years, he was transformed from a prepubescent farmer's son into a confessed murderer.
Now, nearly two months after a US-backed military mission to finish off the LRA, Sudanese, Congolese, and Ugandan commanders of the joint operation say the rebels are slowly starving to death, losing contact with their leadership, and running out of ammunition. But fresh details from soldiers involved in the operation, former LRA abductees, and local villagers reveal that success is coming at a heavy price.
Since a Dec. 14 Ugandan airstrike on LRA bases in northeastern Congo, Ngamu and hundreds of other fighters from the LRA have butchered, bludgeoned, and burned their way across an area the size of Belgium. More than 900 people are estimated to have been killed, most of them hacked to death with machetes or beaten by clubs. Hundreds of children have been abducted and 133,000 people have fled their homes, the UN says.
The push against the rebels has been "catastrophic" for civilians, UN humanitarian chief John Holmes said Tuesday after visiting one of the areas hit hardest by fighting.
Stay the course?
Still, Mr. Holmes said the operation must continue and the commanders of the operation remain bullish about the prospects for success.
There are 4,000 Congolese troops, from the most professional brigades in a notoriously unreliable army, and an estimated 2,000 Ugandan soldiers on the ground. Already, they are setting the timeframe for finishing off the LRA in terms of weeks rather than months.
But it is difficult to share their sense of optimism. Countless previous predictions of the LRA's imminent demise have proved unfounded.
Over the past two decades, Joseph Kony's army has survived concerted military onslaughts against its bases in Northern Uganda and South Sudan.
Who is the LRA?
Originally from across the border in northern Uganda, for the past 22 years the LRA has carried out an odyssey of terror across four countries in this remote region. Commanded by a self-proclaimed spirit medium and prophet, Mr. Kony, their attacks combine satellite telephones, night-vision goggles and established guerrilla tactics with witch doctors' fetishes and the deadly fanaticism of Mr. Kony's skewed mysticism.
Aligned against them is a coalition of Congolese, Ugandan and South Sudanese armed forces that have come together in a rare act of unity designed to eradicate the LRA once and for all.