How the US-Ugandan strategy of chasing the LRA backfires
While the Ugandan and US strategy of chasing the brutal Lord's Resistance Army leader, Joseph Kony, has produced some attrition, it has also generated a massive recruitment campaign by the LRA.
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More press releases, more declarations of intent to capture or kill Joseph Kony, more empty assurances of imminent victory and yet another round of search and destroy operations led by the Ugandan Army. None of this is new and all of it has failed in the past.
The Azande people, an historically marginalized ethnic group of hunters, herders, and farmers living in the border regions of the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan have been targeted for special attention by the LRA, are caught in the yawning gap between rhetoric and action. I am reminded of the feeling of abandonment felt by the few who stayed on the ill-fated UN Peacekeeping Mission in Rwanda as the outside world decided that their reports of genocide must somehow be exaggerated. Have we all become so cynical that we will let a whole people suffer like this – again?
While the challenges of taking effective action in such a complex environment are indeed daunting, it is the shallow understanding of the military dimensions of the problem that is so disappointing. We have ample evidence from reports of the past 20 years that the LRA are a force to be reckoned with. Ruthless as they are, their tactics are well adapted to the terrain and the nature of the forces they face. And yet the proposed military responses under the new AU offers no new troops, no new thinking and no sign of serious military technical analysis. A cynic might be led to think that no one really wants to look at the problem carefully out of fear of being called to do more than they might want to.
The LRA make deliberate use of terror to tie up military forces and survive by hit and run attacks that are well-planned and flawlessly executed. The military response from UN Peacekeeping and national forces has been totally inadequate insofar as they focus on providing limited static defense of a small number of civilian settlements. The LRA just find the ones that aren’t protected. Since none of the armies deployed have a policy of pursuit after attack, the LRA consistently escape with loot and abducted recruits.
Chasing the leaders, which seems to be the strategy preferred by both the Ugandan People’s Defence Force and the US military, is a hit or miss approach that will call down more attacks on unprotected civilians as the LRA instrumentalise them to send their twisted message and replace battlefield losses by abducting new fighters. While the Ugandan/US strategy has produced some attrition, it has also generated a bloody response and a massive recruitment campaign that seems to have gone unnoticed.