Using US troops to arrest LRA leader Joseph Kony is a bad idea

LRA leader Joseph Kony should be arrested, but its not as easy as sending in US troops, which are not likely to be welcomed by locals, writes guest blogger Laura Seay.

By , Guest blogger

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    One of the world's most wanted rebel chiefs, Joseph Kony of the Lord's Resistance Army, (L) is seen shaking hand with southern Sudan's vice president Riek Machar (R) in this image taken from Reuters TV in Nairobi, May 24, 2006.
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This is not a good idea:

... There is no better case for the humanitarian use of force than the urgent need to arrest Joseph Kony, the ruthless leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), and protect the civilians who are his prey. And far from requiring a non-consensual intervention, Kony's apprehension would be welcomed by the governments concerned.

The LRA began as a rebel movement in northern Uganda, but it now terrorizes the civilian population of northern Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as southern Sudan and the Central African Republic. Its cadre often descends on a remote village, slaughters every adult in sight, and then kidnaps the children, some shockingly young -- the boys to become soldiers slinging AK-47s, the girls to serve as "bush wives." Over more than two decades, many thousands have fallen victim to these roving mass murderers.

The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for Kony and other LRA commanders, charging them with war crimes and crimes against humanity, but the court depends on governments to make arrests.

So far Uganda has done the most to pursue the LRA, but ineffectively. The LRA is not large -- an estimated 200 to 250 seasoned Ugandan combatants, plus at least several hundred abductees -- but as Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni recently told me, Uganda lacks the special forces, expert intelligence, and rapid-deployment capacity needed to stamp out this enemy.

In May, Obama signed a bill committing the United States to help arrest Kony and his commanders and protect the affected population. Now it is high time to act. Arresting Kony would reaffirm that mass murder cannot be committed with impunity. And it would show that, despite the difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan, the humanitarian use of force remains a live option at the Obama White House.

Oh, Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch. Really? Sending some kind of US force into the weakest corner of three extremely weak states and one that could have dealt with this long ago had its leadership really wanted to do so, into territory they don't know, where they don't speak the local languages, to track down an enemy nobody's yet been able to nab, with limited resources? Is this what you're advocating? Really?

I have a ton of respect for Human Rights Watch and the incredible work they do, especially in Africa's Great Lakes region. While I don't agree that it's the worst idea on the internet from Tuesday, this recommendation is off base. Aside from the significant logistical and diplomatic quandaries such operations would pose (How, for example, does Roth think Khartoum would react to an American military presence on south Sudanese soil? Would the French agree to the presence of an American force in the CAR?), fighting in the dense forests in which the LRA hides without knowing the territory, the languages, or the local cultures means that troops undertaking such an operation would be at a significant tactical disadvantage.

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Of course all reasonable people agree that Kony needs to be arrested and prosecuted for the unbelievable crime for which he is allegedly responsible. But if it were that easy, it would've been done already. Say, by the French troops who are already in the Central African Republic. Though mostly engaged in training operations these days, they at least theoretically comprise a significant enough force strength to get the job done.

Part of the reason Kony has been able to evade capture for so long has to do with the way he positions his fighters around his camps and the systems of notification of impending attack he's able to employ. You can't always track the LRA's movements with satellites and open-source intelligence; they're smart enough to stay under tree cover most of the time and there aren't many mobile phone networks in these areas through which informants can phone in sightings. Kony may be crazy, but he's not an idiot – he's got a system. This is not an operation that can be undertaken quickly with a few helicopters and some RPGs.

While the humanitarian use of force may be a good idea in theory, as we've seen before, it doesn't often work out as well as planned. Especially in unfamiliar territory. Tread lightly on this one, policy makers. It's going to take far more than a quick in-and-out sweep to take down Kony.

Laura Seay blogs at Texas in Africa.

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