The Kony Crossroads
President Obama's Chance to Define
His Legacy on the LRA Crisis
August 2015
August 2015
President Obama's Chance to Define
His Legacy on the LRA Crisis
Executive summary and recommendations ......................................................................... 3
Map: LRA area of operations and trafficking networks
I. Inside the LRA: The evolution of Kony’s rebel force ......................................................... 8
Graph: The fate of Ugandan LRA combatants
II. The LRA in the context of regional crises ...................................................................... 14
Graph: Trends in LRA violence
Graph: Civilian displacement in LRA-affected areas of Congo
III. Great expectations: Assessing the US military’s counter-LRA mission �������������������������� 22
Map: Military deployments and LRA attacks
IV. Defeating the LRA: The US role .................................................................................... 30
Graph: Trends in LRA combatant capacity
V. Beyond Kony: Building resilient communities ................................................................ 35
VI. The LRA and President Obama’s legacy on atrocity response ...................................... 39
VII. Conclusion .................................................................................................................. 41
Methodology .................................................................................................................... 42
Five years after signing The Lord’s Resistance Army
Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act into
law, President Barack Obama’s response to the LRA
crisis promises to be one of his most high profile and
enduring legacies in Africa and in the field of atrocity
prevention and response. The 2010 LRA legislation,
cosponsored by a bipartisan coalition of 64 US Senators and 201 Representatives, required that President
Obama deliver to Congress a comprehensive plan
to deal with the LRA crisis. The White House boldly
took up Congress’s mandate, releasing an ambitious
strategy that aimed to protect civilians, dismantle
the LRA’s command structure, encourage defections
from the LRA, and assist affected communities. Its
release had a ripple effect on the African Union and
United Nations, both of which subsequently issued
counter-LRA strategies aimed at improving coordination among regional governments, UN peacekeeping
missions, and humanitarian agencies active in LRA-affected areas.
President Obama revealed the flagship initiative of
his counter-LRA strategy in October 2011 with the
announcement that the US would deploy approximately 100 military advisers to assist regional forces
authorized under the AU’s counter-LRA Regional Task
Force (RTF). In what became known as Operation Observant Compass (OOC), the US advisers have worked
primarily with Ugandan forces deployed in eastern
Central African Republic (CAR), the most capable
and equipped of the RTF contingents. They have
also trained national contingents from the CAR, the
Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo), and South
Sudan, and collaborated with civil society actors on
innovative “Come Home” defection campaigns using
leaflets, radio messages, and aerial loudspeakers.
Since the 2010 legislation was passed, combined
counter-LRA initiatives have made significant progress against the rebel group. LRA killings and mass
child abductions have dropped dramatically and
more than 350 women and children have escaped
long-term captivity within the LRA. Several notorious commanders, including International Criminal
Court-indictees Dominic Ongwen and Okot Odhiambo, have either defected or been killed. The total
number of fighters at Kony’s disposal has dropped
from approximately 400 in 2010 to about 190 today.
Despite this progress, Joseph Kony, having outlasted
three US Presidents over the previous 28 years, is on
pace to survive President Obama’s remaining time in
office. Kony has maintained control over a weakened
but coherent command structure, and LRA groups
still attack civilians across vast swaths of the CAR and
Congo with little risk of being pursued. The number
of LRA attacks and abductions has fluctuated considerably in recent years, defying the narrative that
counter-LRA efforts are making consistent, irreversible progress in addressing the crisis. Total LRA attacks
and abductions dropped from 2011 to 2013 only to
rise in parts of eastern CAR and northeastern Congo
in 2014 and into 2015. In the meantime, Kony and
his immediate entourage operate largely from South
Darfur and the neighboring Sudanese-controlled
Kafia Kingi enclave, where Ugandan RTF troops are
The LRA’s exploitation of safe havens in Congo and
along the South Darfur-Kafia Kingi border has been
essential to its continued survival. US and Ugandan
RTF forces, already facing diplomatic constraints in
accessing these safe havens, also lack the intelligence
and airlift capabilities needed to pursue LRA commanders there. Reduced military pressure – US and
RTF forces have not had a significant battlefield victory against the LRA since June 2014 – has protected
senior LRA commanders and helped them minimize
the flow of rank-and-file defectors. LRA leaders also
traffic ivory taken from elephants killed in Congo to
Kafia Kingi and South Darfur, where they purchase
supplies and munitions. These opportunistic relationships allow Kony and his immediate entourage to
resupply without committing attacks that could give
pursuing forces intelligence on their location.
Counter-LRA operations have forced the rebel group
to curtail its most shocking atrocities, but even this
has had mixed effects. The LRA’s reduction in killings
and mass abductions has given the crisis a dwindling
profile, making it difficult for US and international
diplomats to prioritize it alongside other pressing
issues when engaging Khartoum, Kinshasa, and other
regional capitals. Policymakers also feel less urgency
to address the LRA’s access to safe havens and other
persistent obstacles that stand in the way of a decisive end to the insurgency. In the absence of a clear
vision for resolving the crisis, US and international officials continue to invest in more politically expedient
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015
responses to the crisis, such as emergency humanitarian aid and UN peacekeeping operations. These
efforts do mitigate the suffering of some civilians in
LRA-affected areas, but they fail to reach many of the
hundreds of thousands who have been displaced by
the conflict and ultimately do little to improve the
status quo. Peacekeeping and humanitarian resources in LRA-affected areas are also increasingly limited
by regional and global crises. In Congo, over a dozen
international aid groups and the most capable UN
peacekeeping forces have withdrawn from LRA-affected areas since late 2013, even as LRA attacks and
abductions there have since risen considerably.
President Obama’s legacy on the LRA will depend
on whether his Administration exercises the leadership needed to move beyond mitigation of the crisis
towards its definitive resolution. The President and
US Congress deserve credit for reducing the LRA to a
shadow of its former self, but they cannot rest until
the LRA command structure is dismantled and the
group no longer poses a significant threat to civilians.
A renewed effort to reach this goal must be centered
on diplomatic and military initiatives that disrupt LRA
safe havens in Kafia Kingi, South Darfur, and northeastern Congo. The President must also ensure the
advisers and their RTF partners have the intelligence,
logistical resources, and necessary access to conduct
operations to arrest Kony and senior LRA officers and
aggressively expand defections campaigns in their
safe havens.
At the same time, the Administration and its partners must look beyond Kony. The LRA has preyed on
communities that are marginalized by their governments and face threats from other armed groups.
For President Obama’s counter-LRA strategy to
bear lasting fruit, the US should invest in programs
that spur longer-term economic recovery, reinforce
community resilience, holistically reintegrate LRA
escapees, and address governance and human rights
concerns. Though even a decisive defeat of the LRA
and boosted assistance to affected communities is far
from a panacea for a troubled region, it would have
a stabilizing effect and allow hundreds of thousands
of people to return home. The successful execution
of President Obama’s counter-LRA strategy could also
provide valuable lessons to his Atrocities Prevention
Board and future US Administrations about how
strong interagency cooperation, investments in early
warning mechanisms and community cohesion, and
light-footprint military deployments can help prevent
and respond to atrocities by insurgent groups across
the continent.
Implementing such a strategy will require President
Obama to resist pressure to significantly downsize
the US adviser deployment. Should the fragile counter-LRA coalition disband and US and Ugandan RTF
troops prematurely withdraw from LRA-affected
areas, Kony’s forces will continue to attack, abduct,
and displace civilians across central Africa. Though
Kony is integral to the LRA’s current command structure, he eventually could seek to bestow power on a
younger generation of Ugandan fighters in the LRA
that includes his sons and former bodyguards. If given
the chance to rebuild, the LRA could metastasize further by deepening ties with armed groups involved
in illicit trafficking networks, further integrating
non-Ugandan abductees into the officer ranks, and
resuming mass atrocities.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015
Working in concert, the White House, State Department, USAID, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Defense
Department and US military personnel should:
Reauthorize Operation Observant Compass
and strengthen ties with partner forces
• Reauthorize the deployment of US military
advisers to forward operating bases in the CAR
and Congo until the LRA command structure
is dismantled and the LRA no longer threatens
• Strengthen field-level relations with RTF and
UN peacekeeping partners;
• Deploy an additional US government civilian
field representative to be based between Obo,
CAR, and Dungu, Congo, with a rotation that is
staggered with that of US military advisers;
Disrupt LRA safe havens and trafficking
networks in Kafia Kingi and South Darfur
• In cooperation with the Ugandan military,
conduct operations aimed at apprehending
senior LRA officers operating in eastern CAR
and the Kafia Kingi enclave;
• Establish a more sustained presence of US and
RTF troops in CAR’s Haut Kotto prefecture and
South Sudan’s Western Bahr el-Ghazal State;
• Prioritize the development of a common
diplomatic strategy aimed at securing Sudan’s
cooperation in denying the LRA safe haven
within Sudanese-controlled territory and
allowing RTF troops to pursue LRA forces
there. This strategy should include the
involvement of:
The AU LRA special envoy and the AU
High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP)
US Special Representative for Sudan and
South Sudan and the US ambassador to
The Ugandan government
The head of the UN Office for Central Africa
(UNOCA) and the Special Representative
of the Secretary-General to the African
Union (UNOAU)
The International Conference on the
Great Lakes Region (ICGLR)
• Ensure relevant UN Security Council
documents highlight the presence of LRA
forces in Sudanese-controlled territory and
call for Sudan’s cooperation with the AU
counter-LRA effort;
• Work with the AU, UN peacekeeping missions,
and UN Panels of Experts on the CAR to
investigate reports that Seleka, the Sudanese
military (SAF), and commercial traders are
providing material support to LRA forces;
Prevent LRA forces from attaining safe
haven and illicit ivory in Congo
• Expand cooperation and information sharing
with authorities in Garamba National Park to
deny the LRA access to illicit ivory, and expand
funding of the park’s conservation initiatives;
• Support the development of a network of
protected areas stretching from Garamba
National Park and the Bili-Uele Protected Area
in Congo to the Chinko Reserve in eastern
CAR in which authorities in each location
cooperate on information sharing and antipoaching efforts; • Continue working with MONUSCO to provide
logistical support and training to Congolese
RTF units conducting counter-LRA operations;
• Encourage the Congolese government to
allow Ugandan RTF troops to conduct limited,
time-bound counter-LRA operations in
northeastern Congo;
Improve airlift and intelligence support to
US and RTF troops
• Ensure OOC commanders have the flexibility to
request and deploy, in a timely manner, airlift
and intelligence assets that are appropriate for
counter-LRA operations, with particular focus
on operations in Kafia Kingi and other areas
where senior LRA commanders frequent;
• Ensure US military intelligence personnel
deployed to OOC have in-depth, long-term
expertise on the LRA crisis;
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015
Aggressively declassify intelligence on the LRA
and proactively share it with RTF forces, UN
peacekeeping personnel, and civil society, so
that all actors may contribute to and benefit
from a common operating picture of LRA
Building community resilience
Prioritize consistent engagement between
US military advisers and nomadic herders,
traders, artisanal miners, hunters, and other
actors that have frequent contact with LRA
Expand the scale and geographic range of
defection campaigns
Double the scale of all defection messaging
efforts over the next year, including leaflets
distributed, aerial loudspeaker missions
flown, and the hours per week that UBC
shortwave radio and regional FM radios play
Come Home defection programs;
Expand the geographic reach of defection
messaging into the CAR’s Haut Kotto
prefecture, Congo’s Bas Uele district, the Kafia
Kingi enclave, and South Darfur;
Encourage the Ugandan government to
communicate a consistent policy regarding
which LRA combatants will be offered
amnesty and which ones will face charges if
they defect;
Complete the USAID assessment of recovery
and protection needs in LRA-affected areas,
and use it to develop a comprehensive
strategy for US programming that does the
programs to support the reintegration of
children and adults who have returned
from the LRA;
Builds the capacity of local civil society to
peacefully resolve communal conflict;
Integrates expanding the capacity building
of local civil society organizations into all
grants to international NGOs operating in
LRA-affected areas;
Encourage the European Union and World
Bank to support reintegration and economic
recovery initiatives in LRA-affected areas,
including the rehabilitation of key roads;
Encourage UN peacekeeping missions,
including MINUSCA, to rehabilitate roads in
LRA-affected areas that will enhance crossborder travel;
Pressure OCHA and humanitarian actors
in Congo to develop an assessment of
humanitarian and recovery needs in LRAaffected areas, including those of people no
longer officially counted as displaced.
Promote civilian protection, human rights,
and rule of law in RTF partner countries
Work with RTF partner forces to ensure
counter-LRA operations fully integrate
civilian protection strategies and comply with
international humanitarian and human rights
Encourage the AU to deploy civilian protection
experts to the field to help RTF forces develop
operational guidelines on accountability and
civilian protection;
Ensure that partnerships with RTF forces on
counter-LRA operations do not dilute US
diplomacy to address pressing human rights
and governance crises, particularly in Uganda;
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015
The LRA has evolved considerably since Joseph Kony
formed the group in the Acholi region of northern
Uganda in the late 1980s. Since the collapse of the
Juba Peace Talks in 2008, it has morphed from a political rebellion to a criminal gang that exists for the
benefit of a handful of senior commanders. Scattered
across four countries in an area the size of California,
small LRA groups have developed a variety of survival
strategies that include looting rural farms, accessing
local markets, and extorting communities for food in
exchange for minimizing attacks. Kony’s immediate
entourage has increasingly relied on the trafficking
of illicit ivory, gold, and diamonds to acquire needed
supplies without attracting the attention of pursuing
Ugandan troops. Kony has maintained a remarkable
degree of control over the LRA’s command structure,
marginalizing his rivals and using incentives and fear
to deter defections and inspire loyalty. However, he
appears to have lost touch with at least some LRA
groups, and recent defections from his entourage
may be a sign that his grip on the LRA is eroding.
Furthermore, the LRA’s reliance on Kony and a dwindling core of Acholi fighters bodes ill for the group’s
future unless he can groom a successor and integrate
non-Acholi abductees into the command structure.
From northern Uganda’s rebellion to
Kony’s rebellion
Kony’s LRA was the heir to a series of rebellions
against President Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Movement/Army, whose atrocities in northern
Uganda in the late 1980s and early 1990s sparked
significant local sympathy for the LRA.1 In 1994, the
LRA established an alliance with the Sudanese government, which provided the group with material
support and allowed it to shift its bases to southern
Sudan. Over the next decade the LRA’s conflict with
Museveni’s regime became embroiled in a larger
proxy war, as the Ugandan government supported
South Sudanese rebels against Khartoum.2 The LRA
maintained an active presence in northern Uganda
even as it shifted its focus towards southern Sudan,
1 For a concise history of the early stages of the LRA conflict,
see Refugee Law Project, “Behind the Violence: Causes,
Consequences, and the Search for Solutions to the Conflict in
Northern Uganda,” February 2004.
2 For more detail on the LRA’s history in South Sudan, see
Mareike Schomerus, “The Lord’s Resistance Army in Sudan: A
History and Overview,” Small Arms Survey, September 2007.
sometimes returning to retaliate against Ugandan
military offensives. However, the LRA’s brutal tactics,
including massacres, mutilations, and child abductions, steadily eroded the group’s popularity in northern Uganda.
The Lord’s Resistance Army preys on
civilians... Its leadership, indicted
by the International Criminal Court
for crimes against humanity, has no
agenda and no purpose other than
its own survival.
—President Barack Obama, 24 May 2010,
Statement upon signing The LRA Disarmament
and Northern Uganda Recovery Act
The LRA’s presence in southern Sudan became
increasingly tenuous following the signing of the
Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which led to the
gradual withdrawal of the SAF from the region. In
2006 Kony shifted the LRA’s bases to Congo’s Garamba National Park and agreed to participate in peace
talks with the Ugandan government, mediated by
South Sudanese Vice-President Riek Machar. The
Juba Peace Talks placed the LRA near the center of
dialogue between the Ugandan government and
northern Ugandans, enhancing its political credibility.
Civilian negotiators appointed by the LRA, despite
having a minimal political base at home and little
trust among the LRA’s military command, played a
leading role in widely publicized discussions about
the future of transitional justice and economic recovery in war-affected areas of Uganda.
The LRA’s heightened influence over the future of
northern Uganda was short-lived. Kony’s mistrust in
the negotiations process caused him to re-isolate the
LRA military command and resume large-scale abduction raids in anticipation of a return to hostilities.
In December 2008, following several unsuccessful
attempts to bring Kony back into the process, the
Ugandan government launched Operation Lightning
Thunder against LRA bases in Garamba National
Park. The US-supported military strike failed to capture Kony, but it forced him into hiding and scattered
LRA groups further away from Uganda. By this time,
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 8
hundreds of thousands of displaced northern Ugandans had already taken advantage of the ceasefire to
return home and begin rebuilding their communities
after decades of war. The Ugandan government,
having relaxed its unpopular forced displacement
policy, made further political overtures to northern
leaders, including promises to initiate a transitional
justice process in the country.
As northern Ugandans took more control over negotiating their future within the country, the LRA
became increasingly irrelevant. This dynamic created
an existential crisis for the LRA’s Acholi fighting force,
which Kony has long motivated by citing the political
grievances of northern Ugandans. Acholi defectors
in recent years have testified to the growing disillusionment within the LRA towards Kony’s ideology,
as many fighters realize that the idea of returning
triumphantly to overthrow the Museveni regime is
unrealistic given the dwindling fighting force and its
distance from Uganda. Many now see the LRA as an
armed group whose function is primarily to serve the
interests of Kony and a handful of senior officers.3
Reliance on illicit trafficking
The narrowing of the LRA’s raison d’être, from political to personal, has been compounded by the LRA’s
growing involvement in the trafficking of illicit ivory,
gold, and diamonds. For the first two decades of its
existence, the LRA had minimal, if any, involvement in
trafficking illicit natural resources, lending credibility
to Kony’s claim that the LRA served a higher, more
political purpose than personal enrichment. Kony
used the LRA’s simple, frugal lifestyle as a motivational tool, telling his fighters that it differentiated
them from other rebel groups and corrupt Ugandan
government officials that sought material wealth.4
This began to change in 2009, when LRA forces acting
on Kony’s orders established contact with SAF troops
near Dafak, in the Sudanese-controlled Kafia Kingi
enclave between South Darfur and South Sudan.
Kony hoped that the SAF would allow the LRA to use
Kafia Kingi as a safe haven from Ugandan military
operations in neighboring eastern CAR and resume
the material support they had provided to LRA forces
3 Author interviews with ten former LRA combatants, Gulu,
Uganda, 9-13 September 2014, 27-30 November 2014, and
10-12 July 2015. See also Ledio Cakaj and Phil Lancaster,
“Loosening Kony’s Grip: Effective Defection Strategies for
Today’s LRA,” The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative, July 2013.
4 Cakaj and Lancaster, “Loosening Kony’s Grip,” 2013.
before the Juba Peace Talks. The SAF did provide LRA
groups with limited supplies from 2009 through at
least 2013, though less than Kony had hoped. Their
more lasting contribution to the LRA’s survival was
to help the LRA develop contacts among a network
of traders in the border area between the towns
of Dafak and Deim Bushara in Kafia Kingi, Songo in
South Darfur, and Sam Ouandja in northeastern CAR.
The region has long been a hub in the flow of illicit
minerals and wildlife products from central Africa
into Darfur and Khartoum. As the LRA became more
familiar with these trade networks, Kony recognized
that LRA forces in eastern CAR and northern Congo,
who were already sending food supplies to LRA
groups in Kafia Kingi, could also be tasked with collecting ivory, gold, and diamonds.
Since 2012, LRA groups have killed and harvested the
ivory from at least 50 elephants in Congo’s Garamba National Park, likely more, sending the valuable
commodity north to Kony’s group in Kafia Kingi.5 In
2013, LRA groups in eastern CAR began looting gold
and diamonds from artisanal miners and collecting
large amounts of cash during raids on civilians. Most
of these illicit materials have been sent to Kony’s
group, which uses them to purchase food, other basic
supplies such as soap and medicine, and munitions
in the border area between Kafia Kingi, eastern CAR,
and South Darfur.6 At times, LRA members have had
the freedom to travel directly to market towns such
as Songo and exchange goods. Often LRA groups
have simply traded with civilians they happen to encounter. In other cases, traders have sought out LRA
camps, and some reports indicate the LRA arranges
pre-set rendezvous with trusted traders via satellite
The ability to resupply via illicit trade networks in this
border area has an important strategic value for the
5 The LRA shipped substantial amounts of ivory in late 2012,
when LRA commander Binany Okumu delivered several dozen
tusks to Kony’s group, and in late 2014, when LRA commander
Awila delivered between 40 and 50 tusks to Kony’s group. The
Resolve, Enough Project, and Invisible Children, “Kony to LRA:
Bring me ivory, gold, and diamonds,” 19 November 2014.
6 Author interviews with former LRA combatants, Gulu, July
2015. See also: The Resolve, Enough Project, Invisible Children,
“Kony to LRA,” 2014.
7 Paul Ronan and Michael Poffenberger, “Hidden in Plain Sight:
Sudan’s Harboring of the LRA in the Kafia Kingi Enclave, 20092013,” The Resolve, April 2013. Author interviews with civil
society representatives, Obo, CAR, 7 February 2015. Author
interviews with former LRA combatants, Gulu, November 2014.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 9
LRA, providing Kony and his most senior officers with
an additional layer of security from Ugandan and US
forces trying to gather intelligence on his location.
LRA attacks on civilians elsewhere are often quickly
reported to Ugandan and US forces, forming a crucial
stream of intelligence on the location of LRA groups.
But access to markets for illicit materials in South
Darfur and Kafia Kingi allows Kony’s entourage to acquire needed supplies while minimizing attacks on civilians, a dynamic that is reflected in the low number
of LRA attacks reported there and in neighboring
areas of the CAR. It also provides a disincentive for
traders to provide US and Ugandan troops with information on the LRA, as the defeat of the rebel group
would disrupt their access to a profitable source of
illicit goods.
Complex relations with civilians and Seleka
Kony’s entourage has not been alone in developing
more creative survival strategies in recent years. LRA
groups operating in eastern CAR and northeastern
Congo have long relied on looting civilians by force
to acquire needed supplies, but in recent years they
have increasingly sought less violent ways to survive.
LRA groups in these areas periodically seek permission from local leaders to have free access to local
markets, or try to purchase food from civilians using
cash they looted during previous raids.8 Though LRA
forces have been known to employ such strategies in
the past, the splintering and shrinking of LRA groups
may be forcing them to take a less aggressive approach to civilians more frequently.
Nowhere have LRA groups been bolder in establishing ties with local civilians and authorities than in the
diamond-rich area in eastern CAR between Nzako,
in Mbomou prefecture, and Bria, in Haut Kotto prefecture. In September 2013, LRA commander Otto
“Sam” Ladere initiated a series of meetings near
Nzako with Seleka forces, who had recently come to
power in a coup.9 He urged Seleka officers to give his
group food and medicine, promising that senior LRA
commanders, including Kony himself, were interested in surrendering. After initial parlays, Seleka forces
8 Author interviews with former LRA combatants, Gulu,
September 2014. Author interviews with witnesses to LRA
requests to access local markets, Tadu, Congo, 23 February
9 Ladere reportedly initiated these meetings without Kony’s
permission, and was later chastised by Kony for doing so. Author
interviews with former LRA combatants, Gulu, July 2015. and civilian leaders began giving LRA groups food and
supplies in an ill-fated attempt to encourage defections and address community concerns about LRA
The negotiations failed to entice any LRA combatants
to surrender, but they established a precedent for
peaceful contact between LRA groups, Seleka forces,
and civilian authorities and traders. The negotiations eventually morphed into opportunistic trading
relationships that gave LRA groups new avenues to
acquire needed food supplies. Seleka forces have met
with LRA groups on at least 12 occasions near the
towns of Nzako and Bria since September 2013, often
giving them supplies such as cassava and other food,
gumboots, medicine, solar panels, and rope to assist
in river crossings.11 Unconfirmed reports also indicate
that traders based further northeast in the town of
Sam Ouandja, which lies just 50km from Kafia Kingi,
have also periodically exchanged goods with LRA
forces.12 On several occasions, LRA commanders have
reportedly given Seleka officers and civilians stolen
minerals in exchange.13
However, Seleka officers have no overarching strategic directive to cooperate with the LRA and have
little loyalty towards LRA fighters. Seleka factions
previously associated with the UFDR (one of the
Central African rebel groups that later joined Seleka)
have a degree of mistrust for the LRA stemming
from clashes between the two groups in northeastern CAR in 2010. On several occasions Seleka forces
have facilitated the surrender of LRA defectors to
10 Michel Djotodia, a senior Seleka leader and the former
self-imposed president of the CAR, personally approved the
outreach in an attempt to gain favor with the international
diplomats condemning Seleka’s chaotic rule. Paul Ronan,
“The backstory on Kony’s ‘surrender talks,’” The Resolve, 21 November 2013.
11 Author interviews with former LRA combatants, Gulu,
September 2014 and November 2014. Author email exchanges
with NGO representative, Obo, May 2015. Author interviews
with civil society leaders and Seleka representatives, Bria, CAR,
29 June – 3 July 2015. See also UN Panel of Experts on the
Central African Republic, “Letter dated 28 October 2014 from
the Coordinator of the Panel of Experts on the Central African
Republic established pursuant to Security Council resolution
2127(2013),” S/2014/762, UN Security Council, 29 October
12 Author interviews with civil society representatives, Obo,
February 2015. Author interviews with former LRA combatants,
Gulu, November 2014.
13 Author interviews with former LRA combatants, Gulu,
September 2014.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 10
US or Ugandan troops, including Dominic Ongwen
in January 2015. In other cases, Seleka officers have
reportedly worked with community leaders to offer
LRA groups food simply in an attempt to encourage
them to minimize looting raids on civilians.14 One
such arrangement was brokered by Seleka officers in
mid-2014, leading to communities along the Bria-Yalinga axis to provide LRA groups with food. Seleka
officers reportedly brokered a similar agreement in
April 2015 to provide an LRA group operating along
the Bria-Ouadda axis with food. The most recent
contact between LRA commanders and Seleka forces
occurred in June 2015, when Seleka officers and local
authorities met LRA commanders Angola Onen Unita
and Olorworo in the village of Ngoundja, east of Bria.
They reportedly gave the LRA group food and encouraged them to defect, but though LRA forces camped
near the village for several days they eventually departed.15
Kony’s grip on the LRA hierarchy
contact with Seleka officers near Ngoundja in June
2015 without Kony’s permission.16
Still, Kony’s ability to maintain a tight grip on the
LRA’s command structure, despite widespread disillusionment among the rank-and-file and the scattering
of LRA groups, is remarkable. He has done so in part
by preventing other LRA officers from developing
alternative centers of power and by consolidating his
position as the group’s sole center of gravity. When
necessary, he has executed senior LRA officers whose
popularity threatens his supremacy within the organization, such as when he killed his chief deputy, Vincent Otti, in 2007. Otti had a loyal following within the
LRA and had gained additional prominence through
his engagement with the press and mediators during
the Juba Peace Talks. In 2012 and 2013, Kony executed several Acholi officers for raping abducted girls or
openly questioning his leadership and the wisdom of
continuing the LRA rebellion.17
The increasingly complicated web of relationships
connecting LRA groups to local civilians and authorities help LRA groups survive in an otherwise harsh
environment, but they may also threaten Kony’s grip
on the LRA. Kony’s decision to move LRA groups farther away from Uganda and commit atrocities against
non-Acholi civilians in the CAR, Congo, and South
Sudan is in part a deliberate strategy to alienate his
fighters from the local population and make the prospect of navigating back home to Uganda seem impossible. Peaceful interactions between LRA fighters and
civilians break down those barriers, occasionally even
leading to personal friendships that help LRA fighters
defect. In other cases, they help LRA groups survive
without having to operate directly under Kony’s control, as is the case with the group led by Onen Unita
and Olorworo. Their group, which has been operating
independently since being attacked by Ugandan military forces in April 2014, reportedly established
More frequently, Kony demotes senior officers who
displease him and places them under the supervision
of more loyal commanders. Many stay loyal in the
hopes of regaining his favor and their status within
the group. Kony demoted Caesar Achellam, one of
the longest-serving officers within the LRA, during
the Juba Peace Talks, re-promoted him after Otti’s
execution, and then marginalized him again before
he finally escaped in May 2012. Kony also demoted
Alphonse Lamola in 2012, only to elevate him as the
commander of several LRA groups operating near
the CAR’s Haut Kotto prefecture soon after Ugandan
RTF forces killed LRA commander Samuel Kangul in
November 2013.18 Dominic Ongwen, who was a close
ally of Vincent Otti, slowly lost Kony’s trust following
Otti’s execution and reportedly disobeyed several
orders to rendezvous with Kony in 2009.19 Though
he remained influential among the LRA’s rank-andfile, Kony placed him under the watch of more loyal
commanders. After being beaten and threatened
with execution at Kony’s stronghold in Kafia Kingi in
late 2014, Ongwen surrendered to Seleka forces in
northeastern CAR in January 2015.
14 Author interviews with former LRA combatants, Gulu,
September and November 2014. Author interviews with civil
society leaders and Seleka representatives, Bria, June – July
15 Author interviews with civil society leaders and Seleka
representatives, Bria, June – July 2015. Photo of LRA-Seleka
meeting on file with author.
16 Author interviews with former LRA combatants, Gulu,
September 2014 and July 2015.
17 Ibid.
18 Ibid.
19 Philip Lancaster, Guillaume Lacaille, and Ledio Cakaj,
“Diagnostic Study of the Lord’s Resistance Army,” International
Working Group on the LRA, World Bank, June 2011.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 11
Deaths, defections, and demotions within the senior
officer ranks offer opportunities for ambitious younger
fighters to seek Kony’s favor and the benefits of promotion. LRA officers receive no regular pay, but promotions can give rank-and-file fighters greater access
to abducted “wives” and reprieve from the arduous
physical labor of gathering food and setting up camp.
Kony frequently promotes younger officers who have
served as his personal bodyguards and gained his trust.
Kony promoted Aligach, a former bodyguard in his late
twenties, to replace the LRA’s second-ranking officer,
Okot Odhiambo, after he was killed in late 2013.20 Kony
also promotes officers who lead daring missions and
succeed in bringing him illicit goods. In late 2014, Kony
promoted Major Awila for successfully transporting
at least 40 elephant tusks from Garamba Park to his
group in Kafia Kingi in late 2014.21
Kony also elevates the status of those closest to him.
He has promoted Ali, one of his eldest sons, to a
senior operational position where he acts as gateway
for other officers seeking access to Kony. Another
of his elder sons, Salim, oversees the LRA’s logistical and financial transactions, of which the LRA has
historically kept a close record.22 Kony also has numerous “wives,” some of which are armed and act as
bodyguards. One of these armed “wives” is a young
Congolese Zande woman abducted in 2008 who has
since risen to prominence in Kony’s inner circle.23 In
addition to incentives, Kony also motivates rank-andfile Acholi fighters with fear. Defectors are deterred
by the knowledge they will be beaten, demoted, or
even killed if they are caught. Kony is also a master
manipulator who seeks to tightly control information
flow within LRA groups. His propaganda frequently
seeks to undermine the credibility of Come Home
messages by claiming that Acholi defectors are killed
or imprisoned after they record radio messages or
are photographed for leaflets.
Despite his best efforts, recent defections from Kony’s
group could signal Kony is having difficulty maintaining control over even his own entourage. In December 2014, LRA combatants helped Dominic Ongwen
defect despite Kony’s orders that he be closely su20 Author interviews with former LRA combatants, Gulu,
November 2014.
21 Ibid.
22 Author interviews with former LRA combatants, Gulu,
September 2014, November 2014, and July 2015.
23 Author interviews with former LRA combatants, Gulu,
September and November 2014.
pervised. In May 2015, seven LRA fighters made one
of the most daring defections from the LRA in recent
history. The seven, which included four Ugandan
Acholis and three abductees from South Sudan and
Congo, were all bodyguards to Kony or officers in his
inner circle. To help engineer their escape, they reportedly attacked Kony’s group, though they did not
kill anybody. They later fended off several attempts
by Kony loyalists to recapture them.24
A future for the LRA?
Kony’s Machiavellian tactics have consolidated
his power within the LRA, but they have made the
group’s command structure ill-suited to stay cohesive
in his absence. Neither Kony’s sons nor any other LRA
officers have a power base strong enough to consolidate control of disparate LRA groups if Kony dies or
is captured. Even if Kony remains free and healthy,
only approximately 150 Acholi fighters remain. Since
2006, when the LRA was last active in Uganda, the
LRA has been unable to replace Acholi fighters who
have defected or been killed.25 Few children born to
Acholi parents within the LRA have reached an age
where they have been able to be trained as fighters.26
In the absence of new Acholi fighters, the LRA has
tried to expand its fighting capacity by abducting and
training non-Acholi youth from the CAR, Congo, and
South Sudan. During the Juba peace talks, the LRA
took advantage of the lack of military operations to
commit raids aimed at abducting large numbers of
youth, many of whom were then trained as laborers
and soldiers in the large camps the group had built
in Garamba National Park. However, Ugandan and
US military pressure has limited the LRA’s to ability
abduct, feed, and train young abductees, and the
LRA has committed few of its trademark mass child
abductions since 2010. LRA commanders have even
released some long-term abductees, in part because
24 Author interviews with former LRA combatants, Gulu,
July 2015.
25 One exception to the LRA’s inability to recruit additional
Acholi men since 2006 was during the Juba Peace Talks, when
several joined the LRA. These included Okello Mission, who
advised Kony on the legal implications of the proposed peace
agreement, and David Olanya, Kony’s half-brother.
26 One senior Acholi officer who defected from the LRA in 2014
put this number as low as two, comprising only Kony’s sons Ali
and Salim. Several other young boys born into LRA captivity
could eventually become fighters, including several of Kony’s
sons who are currently between the ages of nine and 12. Author
interview with former LRA combatant, Gulu, September 2014.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 12
their groups struggle to feed large numbers of women
and children.27 However, testimonies from children
abducted as recently as 2014 indicate that the LRA
is still training some non-Acholi youth to become
Non-Acholi abductees have little incentive to stay
within the LRA, other than fear of being killed if they
do escape. Many come from communities that have
been victimized by the LRA and flee the group whenever they have the chance.29 Those who stay within
the LRA have a secondary status compared to their
Acholi counterparts and are forced to shoulder the
burden of setting up camps and gathering water and
wild food. Girls and women are also usually forced
to become “wives” of Acholi LRA commanders, while
young males are forced into the frontlines during LRA
raids. Approximately 30-50 of the non-Acholi young
abductees who have been groomed into trusted
fighters remain in the LRA, most of which hold junior
trafficking to provide more material incentives to
non-Acholi officers. Finally, Kony could attempt to
update the LRA’s ideology to incorporate the political
grievances that the Zande and other ethnic groups
have against national authorities in Bangui, Kinshasa,
and Juba. Though this scenario appears unlikely, its
manifestation would be a much longer-term security
threat to the region than the LRA currently poses.
The LRA’s only hope for sustainability is if Kony is
allowed to groom a successor and provide incentives for non-Acholi to stay within the LRA. Kony’s
sons have yet to cultivate enough respect and fear
within the LRA’s ranks to inspire loyalty, but that
could change if they are given enough time to build a
power base with their father’s blessing. To better motivate non-Acholi fighters, Kony could promote those
who are most loyal and successful in carrying out
missions to senior officer positions where they would
have to do less physical labor and be allowed to take
forced wives. Kony could also use the proceeds from
the group’s growing involvement in illicit resource
27 The most recent series of releases came in August and
September 2014, when LRA forces released more than 70 longterm women and children abductees in Congo on Kony’s orders.
The Resolve, Enough Project, Invisible Children, “Kony to LRA,”
28 Debriefing notes viewed by the author from two Central
African youth who escaped the LRA in 2015.
29 Many escapees wander in the bush for weeks or even
months before reaching safety. Others have likely perished
in the region’s vast forests from dehydration, starvation, or
exposure after escaping the LRA.
30 A majority of non-Acholi fighters are given the rank of
Corporal and Sergeant, the two lowest ranks within the LRA.
Several have been promoted as high as 2nd Lieutenant. Author
interviews, former LRA combatants, Gulu, September and
November 2014. For more on the function of ranks within the
LRA, see Ledio Cakaj, “A Brief Explanation of Ranks,” LRA Crisis
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 13
Since 2006, the LRA has operated in the border region
encompassing eastern CAR, northeastern Congo,
western South Sudan, and parts of South Darfur and
the Sudanese-controlled Kafia Kingi enclave. This
region is among the most remote and marginalized
on the continent, with sparse infrastructure and a
limited formal economy. The people living there are
not a notable constituency in any of the four national
capitals, giving ruling elites little incentive to directly
respond to the LRA violence or request more robust
international interventions. The explosion of civil
conflict in the CAR and South Sudan since 2013 has
further sidelined the crisis, while continued geopolitical tension between Kampala and Kinshasa and
Kampala and Khartoum has inhibited cross-border
coordination in closing off LRA safe havens. AU and
UN envoys tasked with coordinating a more coherent
regional response to the crisis have failed to fundamentally alter these dynamics.
Kony has exploited the fractured regional politics
deftly. After witnessing the robust international
response to the large-scale child abductions and
massacres the LRA committed from 2008-2010, Kony
issued strategic orders for LRA fighters to reduce civilian casualties during attacks, gambling that the LRA
could survive long enough that the US military would
move on and the RTF would disband. Even though
LRA abductions increased in 2014 compared to the
previous two years, the lack of any headline-grabbing
massacres or mass child abductions has allowed LRA
violence to continue to slip below the international
The LRA continues to commit atrocities
across the Central African Republic, the
Democratic Republic of the Congo, and
South Sudan that have a disproportionate
impact on regional security.
—President Barack Obama, 23 April 2012,
Remarks at the United States Holocaust
Memorial Museum
The AU and UN LRA strategies
Under pressure from the US and European donors
following President Obama’s release of a US counter-LRA strategy in 2010, the AU and UN moved to
improve regional coordination on the LRA crisis. In
2011, the AU named an LRA envoy and established
mechanisms for regular regional coordination meetings. In March 2012, the AU officially launched the
Regional Task Force, which aimed to bring together
forces from the national militaries of the CAR (FACA),
Congo (FARDC), South Sudan (SPLA), and Uganda
Unlike previous AU missions that were fully mandated by the AU Peace and Security Council, the Council
“authorized” the RTF. While participating countries
hoped that the AU umbrella would spark an influx of
foreign military assistance, little such support mate31 To avoid confusion between regular national military forces
and those tasked to the AU RTF, this report will not use the
acronyms FACA, FARDC, SPLA, or UPDF to refer to troops from
those militaries tasked to the RTF. President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 14
rialized. The US continued to provide long-standing
logistical support bilaterally to the Ugandan RTF contingent, while the EU committed only to supporting
the AU envoy’s office and a small headquarters under
the AU RTF commander in Yambio, South Sudan.
The AU and Western donors saw the creation of the
RTF primarily as a political construct to improve regional coordination and provide a legal framework
for the presence of Ugandan forces in South Sudan
and eastern CAR.
Little investment has been made in building out a civilian component to the RTF since its launch. No civilian AU personnel have been deployed to RTF sector
headquarters in Obo (CAR), Dungu (Congo), or Nzara
(South Sudan) to help implement the AU strategy and
expand the mission’s capacity to monitor protection
threats and engage civilian populations.32 Communication between the sector headquarters has improved over the past year, but the component forces
rarely coordinate operations. The non-Ugandan military officers deployed to the RTF headquarters often
have a minimal role, as the overall RTF commander
has always been a Ugandan that mostly coordinates
with the commander of the Ugandan RTF contingent.
Information sharing between the RTF forces and
the AU LRA envoy and Secretariat in Addis Ababa is
also irregular.
In late 2011, leadership by the US and UK led to the
UN Security Council taking up the LRA crisis for the
first time since the collapse of the Juba Peace Talks
in 2008. A November 2011 presidential statement by
the Council asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
to develop a regional strategy intended to support
the AU’s efforts and better coordinate the alphabet
soup of UN aid agencies and peacekeeping missions
operating in LRA-affected areas.33 Secretary Ban Kimoon appointed Abou Moussa, the head of the UN
office for Central Africa (UNOCA), to work with Ambassador Francisco Madeira, the AU’s LRA envoy, to
make the AU and UN counter-LRA strategies coherent
and substantive on the ground.
32 For more on the formation of the RTF and its struggles
to develop civilian protection strategies and mechanisms, see
Ben Shepard, “In New Light: protection of civilians, the Lord’s
Resistance Army and the African Union Regional Task Force,”
Conciliation Resources, May 2015.
33 UN Security Council, “Statement by the President of the
Security Council,” S/PRST/2011/21, 14 November 2011.
From 2012 into early 2014, Moussa and Ambassador
Madeira spearheaded some progress in regional
cooperation, such as convincing post-coup Seleka
leaders in the CAR to continue allowing Ugandan RTF
troops to operate in the country. Madeira also traveled to Khartoum to raise concern about the LRA’s
presence in Kafia Kingi. However, they lacked the
diplomatic firepower to fundamentally alter the geopolitical tensions underlying the discordant regional
response to the LRA crisis, such as Kinshasa’s refusal
to allow Ugandan troops into its territory to pursue
the LRA and Khartoum’s harboring of the LRA in Kafia
Kingi and South Darfur.
Both Moussa and Madeira transitioned to new posts
in early 2014, and their successors have yet to develop as strong of a working relationship. Abdoulaye
Bathily, the new head of UNOCA, has been more
focused on the negotiations concerning the CAR’s
political transition, limiting his capacity to address
LRA-specific diplomatic challenges. Lt. Gen. Jackson
Tuwei, much to the disappointment of donors and
international partners, was far less communicative
and collaborative than Ambassador Madeira during
his first year on the post. Exploiting Congo’s security vacuum
The Congolese government has reacted to the rollout
of the AU and UN counter-LRA strategies with a combination of indifference and grudging cooperation.
President Joseph Kabila relented to US diplomatic
pressure by the Bush Administration to allow Ugandan troops onto Congolese territory for the launch of
Operation Lightning Thunder in December 2008. Followings its initial failure, the Congolese government
allowed Ugandan troops to continue operations in the
LRA-affected areas of Orientale Province’s Haut Uele
and Bas Uele districts, even ordering FARDC troops to
coordinate on some operations. In September 2011,
Kinshasa reversed course, ordering Ugandan troops
to leave the country. Since then, Congolese government officials have frequently minimized or denied
that the LRA still has a presence in the country, much
to the frustration of affected communities.34 Regular
FARDC forces deployed in the Ueles have often been
unpaid and poorly fed, and have frequently been
more of a threat to civilians than a protective force.35
34 Author interviews with civil society leaders, Dungu, Congo,
2 April 2013, 25 February 2015.
35 For instance, see Human Rights Watch, “Trail of Death: LRA
Atrocities in Northeastern Congo,“ March 2010.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 15
Their human rights record has reportedly improved
in recent years, and they serve as a frontline defense
for many communities. The LRA has made Congolese
troops pay for this role in recent months, killing 14
soldiers since October 2014 after only killing three in
the previous three years.36
In February 2013, after nearly a year of delays, the
Congolese government officially handed over 500
troops to the AU RTF. US military advisers based in
Dungu began training a unit composed of the best
Congolese RTF soldiers in late 2013 and have made
encouraging progress since then.37 With additional
logistical support from the UN peacekeeping mission
in Congo (MONUSCO), the Congolese RTF unit has
conducted sustained operations in the forested hunting reserves surrounding Garamba National Park for
several months. As of March 2015, they have yet to
come into contact with LRA groups, but their ability
to conduct such operations is a marked improvement
from the previous status quo.38 The US advisers and
Congolese RTF unit have also improved cooperation
with park rangers at Garamba National Park, who
have become more aggressive in pursuing poachers
and armed groups operating in the park since mid-
36 LRA Crisis Tracker, statistic calculated 20 July 2015.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics concerning LRA attacks,
abductions, killings, force capacity, and returnees are
attributable to the LRA Crisis Tracker, a joint project of The
Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative and Invisible Children. Data can be
accessed at
37 Author interviews with MONUSCO personnel, US military
personnel, civil society leaders, and AU RTF officers, Dungu,
22-28 February 2015. Under a separate initiative not conducted
by US military advisers deployed on the counter-LRA mission,
the US government funded the training of the FARDC’s 391st
battalion in 2011 and 2012. US officials succeeded in convincing
the Congolese government to deploy the battalion to LRAaffected areas, but it faced logistical constraints and hostility
from other FARDC units and had little engagement with LRA
forces. In late 2012, it was redeployed to eastern Congo,
where it was responsible for grave human rights abuses that
prevent the US from continuing to support it, even if it were
to be returned to the Ueles. See John Vandiver, “US-trained
Congolese battalion among units accused of rape,” Stars and
Stripes, 10 May 2013.
38 Author interviews with US and Congolese RTF military
officials, MONUSCO officials, and Congolese civil society
representatives, Dungu, 22-28 February 2015.
2014.39 The Park, which receives some support from
the US Fish and Wildlife Service, has also expanded
conservation programs that seek greater buy-in from
surrounding communities.
MONUSCO’s expanded role in assisting the Congolese RTF was sparked by a visit to Dungu in late 2014
by the mission’s chief, Martin Kobler, who urged the
peacekeeping forces there to be more proactive in
protecting civilians. Since 2005, MONUSCO forces
have provided some security to large towns and primary roads in Haut Uele district and provided some
logistical support to the Congolese RTF unit and regular FARDC forces. But logistical constraints, lack of
accountability, and operational rigidity prevent them
from pursuing LRA forces or quickly responding to
LRA attacks, leading to the mission’s oft-contentious
relations with war-weary community members.40 In
2014, MONUSCO redeployed its most capable troops
in Haut Uele, a contingent of Guatemalan Special
Forces, further reducing its capacity to protect
civilians. MONUSCO’s DDRRR team, once the standard-bearer for innovative defection messaging in
LRA-affected areas, has been decimated by a loss of
trust among community members and delays in filling
vacancies in over half of the team’s open positions.41
Military protection and pursuit operations also have
been limited in neighboring Bas Uele district, which is
even more remote and sparsely populated than Haut
Uele. The Bili-Uele Protected Area encompasses a
large portion of the northern half of the district, but
there are few groups working there and none that can
prevent the LRA from operating. In September 2013,
relying heavily on logistical support from the US military, the Congolese RTF contingent launched a rare
assault that destroyed an LRA camp where the group
39 Though the LRA does poach elephants in Garamba National
Park, other armed groups have killed a majority of the elephants
poached there in recent years. Author interviews with Garamba
National Park management, Nagero, Congo, 24 February 2015.
See also Kristof Titeca, “Ivory beyond the LRA: why a broader
focus is needed in studying poaching,” African Arguments, 17
September 2013.
40 Solidarity and Integral Assistance to Destitute People
(SAIPED) and The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative, “Healing
MONUSCO’s Image: Community perceptions of the UN
peacekeeping mission in LRA-affected areas of the Democratic
Republic of Congo,” July 2014.
41 SAIPED and The Resolve, “Healing MONUSCO’s Image,”
July 2014. Author interviews with UN officials and civil society
representatives, Dungu, Tadu, and Faradje, Congo, and Kampala,
Uganda, 24 February – 3 March 2015.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 16
had been so comfortable it had built huts and cultivated crops.42 It has conducted further operations in
early 2015, but neither the Congolese RTF unit nor
MONUSCO have or are planning on a sustained presence there. Ugandan RTF forces based to the north in
Central African towns that border Congo, such as Obo
and Mboki, lack permission to operate in Bas Uele,
and President Kabila may be unlikely to allow them to
re-enter in advance of Congolese elections scheduled
for 2016. The US and Ugandan governments have not
pressured the Congolese to allow Ugandan troops
to cross the border in recent years, in part because
they lack the troops and logistical capacity to conduct sustained, simultaneous operations there and in
the border region between the CAR and Kafia Kingi,
which is a higher priority.
Overall, the LRA has committed more than 1,160
attacks in Congo since 2010, more than double
the amount in eastern CAR and South Sudan combined.43 Though LRA attacks and abductions in Congo
dropped for three consecutive years from 2011-2013,
they rose by 10% and 66% respectively in 2014. The
pace of abductions in Congo only has increased again
in the first half of 2015, with the LRA abducting 297
people in the first six months of the year, compared
to 154 in the first six months of 2014.44
The LRA’s impact on security in the Ueles extends
beyond the attacks they commit. LRA violence has
also further destabilized an area already plagued by
poor governance, contributing to an environment
that encourages a variety of criminal actors to prey
on civilians. In particular, Garamba National Park’s
dense forests and lucrative wild game attract LRA
fighters, rogue Congolese soldiers, local poachers,
and heavily armed Sudanese and South Sudanese
poachers. Using the forest for refuge, these armed
groups attack travelers and villages on roads running
west and south of the park. They periodically use
tactics similar to the LRA’s, sometimes intentionally,
making it difficult for protection actors to identify
42 Author interviews with UN officials, Dungu, 12 October
43 LRA Crisis Tracker, statistic calculated 16 July 2015.
44 Ibid.
45 LRA forces committed 112 attacks against civilians in
affected areas of Haut Uele district in 2014, compared to 65 by
unidentified armed groups and 23 by identified other armed
groups. LRA Crisis Tracker, statistic calculated 14 May 2015.
From 2010 through mid-2013, reports released by
the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs (OCHA) estimated that the number of internally displaced persons and refugees from LRA-affected areas of Congo consistently hovered between
317,000–369,000. However, from June 2013–March
2014, OCHA’s displacement estimates there dropped
by more than 60%, from 338,145 to 130,628.46 Many
donors interpreted the reduced displacement figures
as a sign that counter-LRA operations had significantly improved security in northeastern Congo and
allowed people to return home.47
Though the severity of LRA violence in Congo had
diminished compared to its peak from 2008–2010,
overall levels of LRA attacks and abductions remained
relatively steady or even increased from 2012–2014.48
Though some people did return home during this
period, a lesser-known reason behind the reported
drop in displacement is that some displaced persons,
particularly those who fled their homes earlier in the
conflict, were designated as having reintegrated into
their host communities.49 However, anecdotal evidence from northeastern Congo indicates that many
people no longer officially counted as displaced still
consider themselves to be displaced and unable to
return home to pursue their livelihoods.50
46 OCHA, “LRA Regional Update (April – June 2013),” 25 July
2013. OCHA, “LRA Regional Update (January – March 2014),”
14 April 2014.
47 For instance, see: UN Security Council, “Report of the
Secretary-General on the Activities of the UN Regional Office
for Central Africa and on the LRA-affected areas,” S/2014/319, 6
May 2014; UN Security Council, “Statement by the President of
the Security Council,” S/PRST/2014/8, 12 May 2014. The State
Department quoted an earlier OCHA report showing a similar
reduction in displacement numbers, see US State Department,
“Fact Sheet: US Support to Regional Efforts to Counter the
Lord’s Resistance Army,” 24 March 2014.
48 Both LRA Crisis Tracker and OCHA statistics show a leveling
off or increase in LRA attacks and abductions in northeastern
Congo from 2012-2014. For OCHA statistics, see OCHA, “LRA
Regional Update (Oct-Dec 2014),” 24 February 2015; and OCHA,
“LRA Regional Update (October-December 2013),” 22 January
49 The decision to change the displacement status of some
civilians in the Ueles was the result of assessments conducted
by the humanitarian cluster system.
50 Author interviews with civil society leaders, Dungu, 12
October 2013, 25-26 February 2015.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 17
* Data on LRA attacks, killings, and abductions taken from the LRA Crisis Tracker. Data on displacement
calculated using OCHA's LRA Regional Updates for Quarter 1 (January – March) from 2010 – 2015. Donors’ interpretations of OCHA’s displacement
numbers may have influenced their decisions to reduce funding for humanitarian and protection
programs in LRA-affected areas of Congo in
2013 and 2014, which forced a majority of the
international aid groups and UN agencies operating
there to withdraw.51 Recent OCHA statistics indicate
displacement in LRA-affected areas of Congo rose by
40% between September 2014 and March 2015, likely
a response to increased LRA attacks and abductions in
the country.52 Donors, quick to cut funding when they
thought security improved in 2013, have been slow
to respond to these developments. The fluctuating
nature of LRA violence and humanitarian needs
demonstrates that donors and policymakers should
be wary of making quick decisions to cut services
in LRA-affected communities, and should ensure
they understand the reasons underlying changing
displacement reporting before adjusting levels of
humanitarian assistance to populations in need.
51 Even if donors had a more accurate understanding of
the needs in LRA-affected areas of Congo, the drop in donor
resources may have been inevitable given the increased
humanitarian needs in other areas of the country, highlighting
concerns about the overall lack of foreign assistance available
to respond to humanitarian crises in the broader region.
52 OCHA reported a total of approximately 178,000 people
displaced within or from LRA-affected areas of the Ueles in
March 2015, compared to 124,000 in September 2014. See
OCHA, “LRA Regional Update (July – September 2014),” 10
November 2014; and OCHA, “LRA Regional Update (January –
March 2015),” 19 May 2015.
How chaos in the CAR benefits the LRA
The LRA launched its first major attacks in eastern
CAR in March 2008, when ICC-indictee Okot Odhiambo abducted dozens of people from the town of
Obo during the Juba Peace Talks. Ugandan troops
first deployed there in mid-2009 as they pursued
Kony’s group across the border from Congo. Former
Central African President Francois Bozizé was largely
content to allow Ugandan RTF troops to operate in
southeastern CAR from 2009–2012, occasionally restricting their access to sensitive, mineral-rich areas
such as Sam Ouandja and the Bakouma–Nzako corridor. Not by coincidence, the LRA has committed most
of its large scale abduction and looting raids in the
CAR in those same areas, including a daring attack
on a French-owned uranium plant in Bakouma and
the abduction of 70 people in several nearby raids in
The Seleka coup in March 2013 and subsequent
explosion of sectarian tensions not only further relegated the LRA crisis to the geopolitical sidelines, it
also created more space for the LRA to operate. The
coup shut down counter-LRA operations for several
months and forced the US to abandon a newly-constructed base in the town of Djemah and consolidate
their military advisers in the more secure town of
Obo. In late 2013, LRA groups used this opportunity
to establish contact with Seleka forces in near Nzako,
sparking the opportunistic relationships that persist
to this day. When Ugandan RTF troops wrested control of Nzako from Seleka in mid-2014, LRA groups
53 Author interviews with civil society and local government
officials, Bangassou and Bakouma, CAR, 26-29 October 2012.
See also, Human Rights Watch, “Central African Republic: LRA
Attack Near Hunting Reserve,” 9 July 2012.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 18
moved further north and west. In December 2014,
an LRA group abducted 11 children in the village of
Morobanda in Nana-Gribizi prefecture, over 200km
further west than any other previously recorded LRA
attack in the country.54
In total, LRA forces committed 67 attacks on civilians
and abducted more than 300 people in eastern CAR in
2014, more than in any of the previous three years.55
LRA attacks in eastern CAR have dropped significantly in 2015, with only 22 attacks and 39 abductions
recorded in the first half of the year. However, LRA
violence has still proven to be disruptive in areas such
as eastern Haut Kotto prefecture, where a series of
LRA attacks near the town of Bria suppressed civilian
movement along major roads and forced some artisanal diamond miners to temporarily abandon their
Some European and UN officials have been reluctant
to integrate responses to the LRA crisis into broader
stabilization and political transition processes in the
CAR following the Seleka coup. MINUSCA, the UN
peacekeeping force in the CAR, has largely left security in the southeast to Ugandan RTF troops, who
helped slow the spread of sectarian tensions there
from western and central CAR. However, an outbreak
of violence between nomadic Mbororo and agricultural communities near the town of Zemio in November 2014, which left three people dead and 14 others
injured, demonstrated the potential for the fragile
security in southeastern CAR to unravel.57 The CAR
government and MINUSCA will have to eventually
take more responsibility for stabilizing the southeast,
as Ugandan RTF forces have neither the mandate nor
the capacity to rebuild fractured communities. Their
presence in the CAR is linked to the LRA crisis, and
a rapid Ugandan withdrawal is possible if they capture Kony or decide the pursuit is no longer worth
the cost. MINUSCA also faces pressure to respond
to LRA activity in areas of Mbomou and Haut Kotto
prefectures, particularly near Bria, which lie beyond
54 Debriefing notes viewed by the author from two Central
African youth who were abducted by the LRA in Morobanda in
December 2014 and later escaped. Author email exchange with
NGO representative, Obo, 4 May 2015.
55 LRA Crisis Tracker, statistic calculated 20 June 2015.
56 Author interviews with traders and diamond miners, Bria,
June – July, 2015.
57 UN News Centre, “In Central African Republic, UN team
investigates outbreak of sectarian violence,” 24 November
the sustained reach of Ugandan forces. The mission’s
plans to expand peacekeeper deployments into the
southeast and Haut Kotto are an encouraging step.
However, MINUSCA commanders will have to improve upon MONUSCO’s inability to quickly respond
to scattered LRA attacks in remote areas if they hope
to avoid a similar breakdown in relations with local
Improved security in South Sudan
LRA groups frequently targeted South Sudan’s Western Equatoria State from 2007–2011, but have only
attacked civilians there on five occasions since 2012.58
The presence of Ugandan troops in Western Equatoria has undoubtedly played a key role in deterring
LRA attacks, though their base is mostly used as a
logistical hub for operations in eastern CAR. Troops
from the SPLA and peacekeeping mission in South
Sudan (UNMISS) are notoriously less effective against
the LRA, but have provided a measure of protection
for major towns.59
However, military forces should not receive primary
credit for the decrease in LRA activity in Western
Equatoria. The expansion of mobile phone and road
infrastructure in the post-referendum period, the
latter partially funded by USAID, has allowed for faster
travel and better communication between remote
communities. In addition, Western Equatorian officials are popularly elected, unlike their counterparts
in eastern CAR and northeastern Congo. They have
proactively worked with religious and cultural leaders to strengthen community-level responses to the
LRA crisis. Most notable have been local self-defense
groups, known as Arrow Boys or Home Guards, which
operate with the approval and logistical support of
community and local government officials. They have
helped push LRA groups out of Western Equatoria
and patrol rural agricultural centers, allowing displaced persons to return to their homes and fields.60
58 LRA Crisis Tracker, statistic calculated 12 June 2015.
59 Rajiv Chandrasekaran, “Kony 2013: U.S. quietly intensifies
effort to help African troops capture infamous warlord,”
Washington Post, 28 October 2013.
60 Author interviews with community leaders, government
officials, and Arrow Boy leaders in Yambio, Ezo, Nzara, and
Tambura, South Sudan, 2010-2013. See also Danish Refugee
Council and Danish Demining Group, “Armed Violence and
Stabilization in Western Equatoria,” April 2013.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 19
Despite this progress, the LRA remains a threat to
South Sudanese civilians. LRA groups still manage
to periodically attack communities along South Sudan’s border with Congo, including the abduction
of 11 people in January 2015. LRA groups were also
suspected, but not confirmed, to be responsible for
several attacks on civilians in South Sudan’s Western
Bahr el-Ghazal State in January 2015, an area they
frequently travel through en route to Kafia Kingi.61
LRA violence has also exacerbated tensions between
Zande communities and the Dinka-dominated South
Sudanese military forces in Western Equatoria State,
which date back to clashes between the two groups
following the end of Sudan’s civil war in 2005. Though
the Zande have largely stayed neutral in the political
and sectarian conflict that has engulfed other parts of
South Sudan since December 2013, recent reports of
youths attacking SPLA soldiers in Western Equatoria
could be a sign that long-simmering frustration is
rising to the surface.62
The Kafia Kingi Conundrum
The lack of coordination and collective political will
in the international community’s response to the LRA
crisis is no more apparent than in the group’s continued ability to freely exploit the Kafia Kingi enclave
and neighboring areas of South Darfur. Since 2010,
the group has used these areas as a safe haven from
Ugandan RTF operations and as an access point to
barter illicit ivory and other natural resources for
basic supplies and munitions. Five years after the
LRA’s presence there was first reported, and three
years after satellite imagery showing LRA camps there
was publicly released, the international response
has failed to decisively disrupt what has become the
LRA’s most important lifeline for survival.63
they have on higher-priority issues such as violence
in Darfur and Sudan-South Sudan relations. Geopolitical tension between Khartoum and Kampala, including the periodic presence of Darfuri rebel leaders
in Uganda, provides an additional disincentive for
Sudan to cooperate in counter-LRA operations. Without strong political leadership to address the Kafia
Kingi conundrum, international responses to the LRA
crisis are skewed towards more politically expedient
efforts, such as supporting emergency humanitarian
programs and peacekeeping operations in LRA-affected areas of the CAR and Congo. These efforts have
limited benefit for local communities, but bring the
crisis no closer to an end. Though disjointed, current diplomatic efforts provide
some foundation for a more robust response. US
officials periodically raise the matter with the Sudanese government, and more sustained and high-level
engagement from Secretary of State John Kerry and
US Ambassador Donald Booth could yield results. At
the UN Security Council, the US, UK, and non-permanent members such as Australia, Portugal, Germany, Luxembourg, and Slovenia have succeeded in
overcoming Russian objections to include mentions
of the LRA’s presence in Kafia Kingi into the Council’s biannual presidential statements on the LRA and
UNOCA.64 Though they are not legally binding, the
Council’s statements have proven to be an embarrassment to Khartoum, which has periodically issued
denials of the LRA’s presence in Kafia Kingi. In May
2014, the Sudanese foreign ministry went as far as to
invite the AU to come to Kafia Kingi and investigate
these reports.65 The AU and Lt. Gen. Jackson Tuwei
have been slow to take Khartoum up on its offer,
though they have made recent progress in planning
a trip to Sudan.66
Despite widespread agreement that the LRA’s presence in Kafia Kingi has been crucial to its ability to
survive, the international diplomatic response has
been weak, inconsistent, and ultimately unsuccessful
in dislodging the LRA. The contentious relationship
Western and UN diplomats have with Khartoum
forces them to expend what little political leverage
61 For links to relevant news articles and further analysis, see
Paul Ronan, “Did the LRA kill 13 people in South Sudan this
week?,” The Resolve, 30 January 2015.
62 Radio Tamazuj, “Bakosoro warns youths over attack on
SPLA,” 2 June 2015.
63 Ronan and Poffenberger, “Hidden in Plain Sight,” 2012. See
also Enough Project, “Lord’s Resistance Army Finds Safe Haven
in Darfur,” 11 March 2010.
64 Most recently, see: UN Security Council, “Statement by the
President of the Security Council,” S/PRST/2015/12, 11 June
65 “Letter dated 14 May 2014 from the Permanent
Representative of the Sudan to the United Nations addressed to
the President of the Security Council” S/2014/345, UN Security
Council, 16 May 2014.
66 Author interviews and email exchanges with international
diplomats, Washington DC, USA, April and May 2015.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 20
Denied official permission to operate in Kafia Kingi
and South Darfur, Ugandan RTF forces have taken
the initiative to conduct periodic, highly secretive operations on suspected LRA positions in Kafia Kingi.67
Though they have reportedly had some success, the
political sensitivity of the operations prevents the
Ugandans from gathering consistent intelligence or
conducting sustained operations there, greatly reducing the chances they will succeed in capturing senior
LRA leaders. By using Kafia Kingi and South Darfur as
a safe haven, the LRA has in many ways neutralized
US and Ugandan RTF operations, evidenced by their
failure to score a major military victory against the
LRA since June 2014.68
67 For example, see Elizabeth Rubin, “How a Texas
Philanthropist Helped Fund the Hunt for Joseph Kony,” The New
Yorker, 21 October 2013.
68 Ugandan RTF Operations in April-June 2014 resulted in
the capture of Okello Charles and the defection of three other
LRA officers, including Sam Opio. Since then, no news about
RTF operations resulting in LRA deaths or defections has been
released publicly.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 21
When President Obama announced the deployment
of nearly 100 US military advisers to assist the AU
RTF in October 2011, he sparked high expectations
in LRA-affected communities that the US intervention
would quickly result in Kony’s capture and the defeat
of the LRA. Over three years later, predictions of such
rapid success for the US counter-LRA mission have
proven to be too optimistic. While the explosion of
regional security crises is partly to blame, the success
of the mission also has been hampered by frequent
rotations of US advisers, poor logistical and resource
allocations, and fluctuations in US relations with RTF
I have authorized a small number of
combat equipped US forces to deploy to
central Africa to provide assistance to
regional forces that are working toward
the removal of Joseph Kony from the battlefield. I believe that deploying these US
Armed Forces furthers US national security
interests and foreign policy and will be a
significant contribution toward counter
LRA efforts in central Africa.
- President Barack Obama, 14 October 2011,
Letter to Congress regarding the LRA
Despite these challenges, the US deployment has
helped keep the AU RTF member forces committed
to continued counter-LRA operations. The US has
also provided airlift and intelligence support to RTF
forces that has improved protection of civilians and
degraded the LRA’s fighting capacity. US advisers
have also taken on a leading role in campaigns that
have encouraged dozens of LRA fighters to defect and
could play a critical role in the collapse of the rebel
group should Kony be captured or killed.
Partnership with Ugandan RTF forces
The Obama Administration was careful to frame the
announcement of the US military deployment in
October 2011 as a move to boost the capacity of all
regional military forces working under the AU RTF
authorization. US advisers made progress in training
a small contingent of South Sudanese RTF troops,
helping them conduct cross-border operations to
destroy LRA camps in Congo’s Garamba National Park
in late 2013. However, the splintering of the SPLA
just months later in the civil conflict in South Sudan
has severely limited their ability to partner with US
advisers. Similarly, the March 2013 coup in the CAR
stymied US plans to train FACA troops in Obo.69 The
US advisers’ proactive and innovative support to the
Congolese RTF force, described above, has been more
promising and has been a catalyst for the improved
cooperation between the RTF, MONUSCO, and the
Garamba Park rangers.
Regardless, it was clear from the beginning of the
adviser deployment that Operation Observant Compass would be primarily focused on supporting the
Ugandan RTF contingent, the only force among the
four national militaries with well-equipped, capable
troops that were available for counter-LRA operations. OOC commanders initially deployed teams
of approximately 15 US Special Forces to forward
operating bases in Nzara, South Sudan, and Obo and
Djemah in the CAR, the locations of the Ugandans’
primary counter-LRA bases.70 The US placed the
OOC command element and logistics hub in Entebbe, Uganda. These arrangements reflect the close
working relationship between the Ugandan and US
governments on regional security issues, which includes US support to Ugandan forces deployed with
the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and over a
decade of logistical and intelligence cooperation on
counter-LRA operations.
Despite the history of cooperation between the
UPDF and US military, the establishment of a consistent, productive working relationship between
the two forces on counter-LRA operations has been
69 US advisers have resumed training of Central African and
South Sudanese RTF units in recent months. Author interview
with US military officer, Kampala, July 2015.
70 US military personnel were also deployed to Dungu in 2011
as liaisons to the Joint Intelligence and Operations Centre (JIOC),
which also includes representatives from MONUSCO, FARDC,
and the Ugandan and Congolese RTF forces. In 2013, one of the
US military adviser teams was split between Nzara and Dungu.
In subsequent adviser rotations, as the US has expanded efforts
to train the Congolese RTF contingent, there has been a full
team stationed in Dungu.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 22
challenging. US Special Forces deployed to forward
operating bases rotate out every six months, at which
point they are replaced by a new team that often has
a different approach in how they build relationships
with Ugandan RTF commanders and seek to execute
counter-LRA operations.71 The frequent rotations
severely limit the opportunities for US advisers to
build a consistent rapport with Ugandan officers and
absorb the operational context in enough time to
provide useful advice and support. Early US adviser
rotations were further handicapped by inadequate
overlap with the teams they were replacing, leading to disjointed and inconsistent US engagement,
though this process has improved in the past 18
months. Senior Ugandan commanders in the field,
many of whom have years or decades of experience
pursuing the LRA, have now worked with more than
a half-dozen US Special Forces teams on six-month
rotations and are skeptical of how much value-added
each successive batch of advisers can offer them. The
Ugandan RTF field commander, a Colonel, outranks
the US Majors that lead US adviser teams in the field,
which can also hinder frank communication.72
Though Ugandan troops are deployed for longer
periods than their American counterparts, poorly
timed rotations have also hindered operational effectiveness and relationship building. In late 2014, the
Ugandan RTF rotated in a fresh battalion that was
largely inexperienced in forest counter-insurgency
warfare. They were deployed with little advance
notice to US advisers just before the dry season,
when counter-LRA operations are logistically more
feasible to conduct. Several promising intelligence
leads on LRA groups were reportedly sidelined during
this time as the new troops underwent training. The
Ugandan military also has an incentive to rotate out
many of its best officers and troops and redeploy
them to AMISOM, where they receive higher salaries
and better training. The Ugandan government’s uncertain commitment
to the counter-LRA mission also poses a challenge to
71 From October 2011 until March 2015, US troops deployed
in forward operating bases were primarily part of the US Army
10th Special Forces Group (Airborne). In March 2015, troops
from the 20th Special Forces Group (Airborne), a National Guard
unit, transitioned into the forward operating bases.
72 Author interviews with military personnel, Kampala and
Entebbe, September and November 2014. The overall US
commander of OOC has most often held the rank of a Colonel,
but is based in Entebbe.
the US-Uganda partnership. Though the US provides
logistical support to the Ugandan RTF contingent,
the Ugandan government bears a significant financial burden in supporting troops on the counter-LRA
mission.73 The LRA has also faded as a political issue
in northern Uganda, meaning capturing Kony and
defeating the LRA would bring diminished political
gain to President Museveni. Ugandan government
officials have periodically signaled that financial
constraints and lack of adequate national interest
may force them to withdraw from the AU RTF. These
self-imposed deadlines have been regularly extended, but they reinforce concerns within the US Defense
Department that the US military’s only viable partner
could force a premature end to the mission.
US concern about Uganda’s deteriorating human
rights and governance record also poses a challenge
to cooperation on the counter-LRA mission. Activists
are concerned that Uganda’s RTF deployment reinforces a security-focused lens to US engagement with
President Museveni that dilutes its willingness to
pressure his regime on domestic issues.74 US officials
have remained adamant that security cooperation
with Uganda does not impinge on its engagement
on human rights and governance matters, and it has
reacted substantively to the onerous Anti-Homosexuality Act.75 But the looming Ugandan presidential and
parliamentary elections in early 2016 could further
exacerbate tension between US imperatives to cooperate with the Ugandan government on regional
security, including the counter-LRA mission, and also
address human rights and governance issues.
73 Ugandan military resources have been stretched even more
thin since the controversial deployment of Ugandan troops in
South Sudan in defense of President Salva Kiir’s regime.
74 In recent years, Ugandan government officials have
continued to crack down on opposition parties, civil society
groups, and vulnerable minorities, often using legislative
vehicles such as the Anti-Homosexuality Act and the NonGovernmental Organisations (NGO) Bill. For an overview of the
human rights situation in Uganda, see the Human Rights Watch
country page for Uganda, available at
75 For instance, when White House officials announced the
deployment of CV-22 Osprey aircraft to support Ugandan RTF
counter-LRA operations in March 2014, they also announced
several diplomatic steps intended to pressure the Ugandan
government to withdraw support for the Anti-Homosexuality
Act. Grant Harris and Stephen Pomper, “Promoting Regional
Security and Protecting Human Rights in Uganda,” White House,
24 March 2014.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 23
Unsteady airlift and logistical support
US support to Ugandan counter-LRA operations
predates the formation of the RTF, stretching back
to when the LRA was active in northern Uganda.76 In
December 2008, the US also provided a team of military advisers and non-lethal equipment to Ugandan
forces for the launch of Operation Lightning Thunder
against LRA camps in Congo’s Garamba National
Park.77 The mission failed to capture or kill any senior
LRA officers or integrate civilian protection strategies,
sparking massive LRA reprisals that left more than 850
people dead in what become known as the Christmas
Massacres.78 The failure of Operation Lightning Thunder, green-lighted in the last weeks of the Bush Administration, motivated Congress to press the Obama
Administration to develop a more comprehensive
approach to the crisis, leading to the introduction of
the LRA legislation that passed in 2010.
Activist groups attempted to use the bill as leverage
to attain US support for counter-LRA operations that
were less dependent on Ugandan troops, but ultimately the Administration chose to strengthen Uganda’s
pursuit operations while pressing UN peacekeeping
forces and national militaries to improve civilian protection. With active support from Congressional defense authorizations and appropriations committees,
the Obama Administration has provided a consistent
baseline of funding to counter-LRA operations. From
FY2009-FY2013 the State Department and Defense
Department dedicated over $125 million to fund private contractors that provided Ugandan counter-LRA
forces with additional logistical assistance, including
fuel and several MI-8 helicopters.79 The Defense De76 For instance, US security assistance to Uganda on counterLRA operations in the 2000s included the formation of a
joint counter-terrorism cell and the provision of non-lethal
equipment, such as high-tech surveillance gear and heat
sensors. International Crisis Group, “Northern Uganda:
Understanding and Solving the Conflict,” April 2004.
77 The US dedicated a team of 17 advisers and analysts, and
provided satellite phones, intelligence, and $1 million in fuel to
the Ugandan military for the operation. Jeffrey Gettleman and
Eric Schmitt, “US Aided a Failed Plan to Rout Ugandan Rebels,”
The New York Times, 6 February 2009.
78 Human Rights Watch, “The Christmas Massacres: LRA
Attacks on Civilians in Northern Congo,” February 2009. 79 For an overview of US support to RTF forces on counterLRA operations, including Congressional legislation, see: Alexis
Arieff and Lauren Ploch, “The Lord’s Resistance Army: The US
Response,” Congressional Research Service, 15 May 2014.
Additional information regarding funding levels and provision
of MI-8 helicopters are from author interviews with RTF officers
and US government officials, April 2013 and July 2015.
partment also funded the deployment of additional
airlift support beginning in 2011, and now exclusively
controls airlift and logistical assistance to Ugandan
RTF forces.80
US airlift and logistical support under the Obama
Administration has played a critical role in operations that have captured or killed LRA commanders,
encouraged defections, and protected civilians from
LRA attacks. But gaps persist. In particular, US and
Ugandan troops frequently lack the airlift capacity
and flexibility to conduct simultaneous operations
against multiple LRA groups or conduct leaflet drops
and aerial loudspeaker missions during intensive military operations.81 This dynamic has worsened as LRA
groups have moved further west into the CAR and
Congo and north into Kafia Kingi and South Darfur
since 2010. Most US-funded aircraft are based in the
logistical hubs of Nzara, South Sudan, and Obo, in the
southeastern corner of the CAR, which are increasingly distant from where senior LRA leaders operate.
Ugandan and US officers have also differed on the
ideal protocols for planning aircraft deployments,
with Ugandan officers frequently requesting more
flexible and rapid response missions while US advisers have prioritized more thorough advance planning.
80 Ibid.
81 Author interviews in Washington DC, Entebbe, and Obo,
October 2013 and December 2014.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 24
Periodically, operational needs communicated by US
military personnel in the field have been mistranslated upon reaching planning officials in the Defense
Department, leading to inefficient allocation of resources and political capital. In March 2014, President
Obama notified Congress that he was authorizing the
deployment of Osprey tiltrotor aircraft and additional
US military personnel to support counter-LRA operations.82 The deployment was aimed at addressing remaining gaps in airlift capacity facing US and Ugandan
RTF troops. The move required months of considerable political lift within the US government and made
national media headlines when it was announced.
However, the Ospreys’ deployment was plagued by
competing priorities for their use on the continent
and concerns from US personnel in the field that
they were not appropriate tools for the counter-LRA
operational context.83 After an initial deployment of
several weeks, they have yet to be deployed again
for counter-LRA operations, raising questions about
why the Defense Department requested the White
House to deploy the Ospreys instead of other aircraft
that would have been more suited to the context and
more consistently available to the mission.
The US military has also faced challenges in providing logistical support to US forces deployed in
small towns in South Sudan and the CAR, the latter
of which lacks quality roads and airstrips.84 In the
first months of their deployment, US advisers lived
in basic camps they often built for themselves that
resembled those of the Ugandan RTF forces. In Nzara
and Obo these bases were located within the Ugandan military camp, allowing Ugandan and US officers
to have organic, face-to-face interactions. However,
in 2012 the Defense Department contracted a private
defense company to construct prefabricated bases at
these locations that required a much heavier footprint, similar to the logistical model used in large US
deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. The contractor,
with little experience in the region, severely underestimated the cost of constructing the bases, one of
82 Harris and Pomper, “Promoting Regional Security and
Protecting Human Rights in Uganda,” 2014.
83 Author interviews with US government officials, September
2014 and March 2015.
84 Aside from liaison officers, US military advisers were not
permanently deployed to Congo until 2013. Teams deployed
there since have been located at the MONUSCO peacekeeping
base, limiting the need for additional logistical contracts.
which was closed and destroyed in early 2013 just
weeks after it opened due to security concerns following the Seleka coup in the CAR.
Many US advisers in the field did not welcome the
expanded logistical footprint. Contracted personnel,
who assumed the provision of basic services such
as food preparation and medical support, were deployed in forward operating bases in numbers that
rivaled those of actual US military advisers. The new
bases also hurt trust-building between the US advisers and their Ugandan counterparts by insulating US
troops behind isolated, walled-off encampments and
inundating them with amenities to which Ugandan
troops, many of whom spent weeks on arduous bush
treks pursuing LRA forces, did not have access. The
contractor-built base in Nzara, South Sudan, was at
least built within the Ugandan military base, but its
counterpart in Obo, CAR, was built 4km from the
Ugandan military base, on the opposite side of the
town. 85
Challenges gathering intelligence
US troops face similarly daunting challenges in collecting, analyzing, and sharing intelligence on LRA
group locations and movements. LRA groups are
often separated from each other by hundreds of
miles, moving via small footpaths, shunning major
roads and rarely building huts or permanent camps.
Groups communicate and set rendezvous locations
using High-Frequency (HF) manpack radios and
“runners,” a system that is low-tech but surprisingly
effective and difficult to track.
US intelligence collection has been set back by the
deployment of aerial assets that are ill-suited for
pursuing LRA groups. In FY2013, Congress authorized $50 million for intelligence, surveillance, and
reconnaissance efforts in support of counter-LRA
operations.86 As with the Ospreys, Pentagon planners
had difficulty understanding the operational context,
deploying several intelligence assets with technologies that struggle to detect activity from a group such
as the LRA that has a light logistical footprint and uses
85 Information concerning the contract to build US military
bases taken from author interviews in Nzara, Entebbe, and Obo,
September 2012, March 2013, and September 2014.
86 National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (P.L.
112-239), passed into law on 2 January 2013.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 25
arcane communications technologies.87 Additionally,
most aerial assets have been based out of Entebbe,
meaning they spend much of their flight time simply
traveling to the LRA area of operations and have
little “time on target” in peripheral regions, such as
Kafia Kingi, where senior LRA officers congregate.88
One particular plane outfitted with advanced ISR
capabilities was deployed and operated by a private
defense contractor for months at the cost of millions
of dollars before being withdrawn after it provided
little useful intelligence.89 Such mismanagement has
distracted from the methods of intelligence collection that are more effective in detecting LRA groups
and adds a price tag that costs the mission political
support amongst Congressional and Administration
officials in Washington.
Ugandan and US troops have increasingly focused
on developing human intelligence that can tap into
the networks of traders, nomadic herders, poachers,
and armed groups that encounter LRA groups in the
bush. Developing contacts with such groups requires
patience and the willingness to dialogue with a range
of civil society actors, but the resulting information
can provide valuable tips on the location of LRA
groups. Such tips are independently valuable, and
can also help aerial intelligence assets focus in on LRA
groups with greater precision.90 US military advisers
have also expanded efforts to establish a more sustained presence in areas of the CAR and South Sudan
closer to Kafia Kingi than their current bases in Obo
and Nzara, moves that greatly increase their ability
to access information streams closer to where Kony
and his entourage are operating.91 In 2014, US military advisers established a presence in the UNMISS
base in the town of Raga in Western Bahr el-Ghazal,
though they later pulled out. In 2015, US advisers
have periodically traveled to Sam Ouandja to meet
with Seleka officials and better understand the operating environment on the CAR side of the Kafia Kingi
87 Author interviews in Washington DC, Entebbe, and Obo,
September 2013, October 2013, February 2014, September
2014, and December 2014.
88 Ibid.
89 Ibid.
90 For an excellent overview of intelligence collection and
analysis challenges from a US military officer with experience
on counter-LRA operations, see Stephen Draper, “Intelligence
in Complex Environments,” Small Wars Journal, 1 August 2014.
91 Author interviews in Washington DC, Kampala, Entebbe,
and Obo, September 2014 and December 2014.
The effectiveness of both human intelligence networks and aerial intelligence collection has been
hampered by inadequate mechanisms for analyzing
and sharing intelligence. Ideally, intelligence analysts
can use raw data from human and aerial assets to further refine where intelligence collections efforts take
place, creating a positive feedback cycle. But the US
military has few intelligence officers with long-term
experience on the LRA crisis, and none consistently
deployed to Entebbe or forward operating bases.92
Intelligence gathering and analysis is most often
focused on immediate operational priorities, with inadequate effort made to build up a more contextual,
long-term understanding of the LRA’s modus operandi and internal dynamics.93 US military protocols also
dictate that significant amounts of US intelligence on
LRA activity is classified, even when it has little bearing on US national security interests or immediate
counter-LRA operational planning.94 These protocols
have severely limited the ability of US troops to share
useful intelligence with RTF partner forces and civil
society partners who could provide valuable contextual feedback to US advisers and put US intelligence
to use for their own civilian protection and counter-LRA initiatives.
92 Author interviews in Washington DC and Entebbe,
September 2013, February 2014, and December 2014.
93 For instance, many long-term returnees are not adequately
debriefed regarding the LRA’s modus operandi and internal
dynamics. This dynamic is reinforced by frequent rotations
of intelligence officers, and because Operation Observant
Compass has never been authorized for more than one year
at a time. Author interviews, Entebbe and Washington DC,
September 2013 and February 2014.
94 “A further obstacle to adopting a common information
environment is the US military’s habitual fixation with classified
information at the exclusion of all else… [US military officials]
must take a hard look at information flowing in and decide if
it truly needs to be classified. They must then aggressively
seek to declassify information and share it with traditional
and non-traditional partners.” Draper, “Intelligence in Complex
Environments,” 2014.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 26
Surprising success of defection campaigns
When President Obama announced the deployment
of US military advisers in October 2011, there was
little public indication they would play an active role
in promoting defections from the LRA.95 Instead,
the focus was on how they would assist RTF troops
to pursue top LRA leaders and improve civilian protection. Once they arrived in the field, however, US
advisers proactively embraced defections efforts, led
by a small Military Information Support Operations
(MISO) team. They began working in close coordination with local civil society leaders and international
NGOs such as Invisible Children, and more infrequently with MONUSCO’s understaffed DDRRR office.
US advisers have also received invaluable support
from a rotating cast of US State Department personnel from the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilizations
Operations that have been deployed to the field to
assist US counter-LRA efforts. In addition, they have
partnered with the State Department’s Office of
Global Criminal Justice to develop messaging related
to the War Crime Rewards Program, which was expanded in 2012 to, among other things, allow the US
to offer rewards leading to the capture of LRA leaders
indicted by the ICC.96
Since 2011, this informal coalition has developed a
multi-faceted model for delivering defection messaging to LRA groups. US forces alone have dropped over
one million leaflets over LRA-affected areas of the
CAR and Congo since 2011, often utilizing photos and
messages of recent LRA defectors.97 They have also
rehabilitated FM radio stations that play Come Home
messages in Obo, Mboki, and Djemah in the CAR and
95 For instance, White House communications regarding the
announcement of the deployment did not mention that the
US military advisers would be involved in defection campaigns.
President Barack Obama, “Letter from the President to the
Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro
Tempore of the Senate Regarding the Lord’s Resistance Army,”
14 October 2011.
96 The program was expanded by Congressional legislation
that authorized “the issuance of monetary rewards for
information leading to the arrest or conviction in any country,
or the transfer to or conviction by an international criminal
tribunal, of any foreign national accused of war crimes,
crimes against humanity, or genocide.” As the only remaining
ICC-indicted commander in the LRA, Kony is the only current
LRA officer covered by the War Crimes Rewards Program. See
Department of State Rewards Program Update and Technical
Corrections Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-283), passed on 15 January
97 US State Department, “Fact Sheet,” 2014.
Dungu, Faradje, Banda, and other communities in
Congo. The US advisers and Invisible Children have
also partnered with the Uganda Broadcast Corporation (UBC), whose Acholi-language shortwave Come
Home programs are popular with LRA commanders
and have greater geographic reach than FM programs. US military advisers have also pioneered the
use of aerial loudspeaker missions, where speakers
playing Come Home messages are strapped to aircraft and flown over areas of suspected LRA activity.
Civil society partners help generate locally appropriate content for Come Home messages and sensitizing
community members on how to safely accept and
facilitate LRA defectors. Advisers have periodically
utilized a Defense Department rewards program to
disburse small grants to community projects focused
on defections campaigns.
These combined efforts have proven to be an invaluable tool in encouraging at least 34 Ugandan LRA
combatants to defect since 2013, a 17% reduction in the number Kony had at his disposal at the beginning
of that year. Each combatant defection translates into
a direct reduction in the LRA’s capacity to commit
attacks, and defectors provide invaluable intelligence
on LRA movements and internal dynamics. Each
escapee is also one fewer LRA member potentially
killed or wounded during military operations, a fact
especially important given that most were abducted
and forced to join the group against their will. Defection campaigns are cost-effective compared to military operations and can be deployed in areas where
military forces are unable to reach, though they often
work best in tandem with military offensives that can
scatter LRA groups and give combatants a chance to
escape their superiors.
The limited scale and geographic reach of defection
messaging vehicles remains a constant challenge for
US personnel and their partners. The FM radio stations rehabilitated by US troops have little reach into
LRA safe havens in Congo’s Bas Uele district or along
the CAR-Kafia Kingi-South Darfur border area. Come
Home programs on UBC, arguably the most effective
defection tool, only run for a handful of hours each
week. The US also lacks enough long-range airlift
capacity to consistently drop leaflets or conduct
aerial loudspeaker missions over LRA groups, even
in areas where they are known to be operating. At
times, MISO personnel have had to deal with onerous
bureaucratic obstacles to unlock approval or funding
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 27
for their projects, including rapid reaction initiatives
aimed at capitalizing on the defection of LRA combatants such as Dominic Ongwen.
Those messages that do reach LRA members are
vulnerable to Kony’s adept propaganda, which uses
cultural miscues in defection messages and outright
lies to undermine their appeal. Defection partners
have yet to fully embrace several key lessons learned,
such as the importance of ensuring that defectors are
featured repeatedly in leaflets and radio messages in
the months and years after their escape. Doing so
counters LRA propaganda that defectors are featured
on leaflets and radio programs immediately after they
escape only to be subsequently killed by the Ugandan
military. In some cases, Kony’s propaganda simply exaggerates the truth, such as the fact that there is little
reintegration support for Acholi LRA combatants who
escape the LRA.98
The frequent rotation of US troops has hampered
efforts to improve the scale, reach, and quality of
defection messaging.99 Civil society partners in the
CAR, Congo, and South Sudan report that US adviser
teams that are active in defection efforts and community outreach are sometimes followed by teams
that focus more exclusively on collaboration with
RTF forces on military operations.100 Across multiple
rotations, this can lead to uneven implementation of
defection projects and weakened relationships with
civilian partners. The deployment of MISO personnel
in Obo in recent years has mitigated this dynamic to
some extent, but even they rotate out of the field
98 Author interviews with former LRA combatants, Gulu,
September and November 2014.
99 More so than the Special Forces teams, some MISO
personnel have had multiple tours on the counter-LRA
mission, allowing them to build on previous experience when
implementing defection projects. However, they are primarily
based in Entebbe and rely on commanding officers and troops
in forward deployed bases who more frequently rotate out to
guide and implement their work.
100 Author interviews with civil society leaders, Obo, 6 April
2013. Author interviews with civil society leaders, Entebbe, 4-5
March, 2015.
Countering Kony’s propaganda has been made more
difficult by the lack of clarity on the implementation
of Uganda’s Amnesty Act, which has been a key tool
for encouraging defections from the LRA for over 15
years. The Act is still popular among many northern
Ugandans, but has come under criticism for providing
a blanket amnesty for senior LRA officers responsible for egregious human rights abuses. In 2012 the
Ugandan Minister for Internal Affairs allowed the
Act to lapse, before reinstating it a year later.101 The
Act has also been challenged within the Ugandan
government. In 2010, Uganda’s Directorate of Public
Prosecutions (DPP) sought to set a precedent of excluding some LRA officers from the amnesty process
by charging former LRA commander Thomas Kwoyelo
with war crimes. In April 2015, the Ugandan Supreme
Court finally issued a decisive ruling on the Kwoyelo
case, overruling lower courts by clarifying that the
DPP does have the power to exclude former LRA
members from the amnesty process.102 The DPP has
yet to clearly communicate what level of atrocities
LRA officers will have to be accused of to risk prosecution upon returning home. Such uncertainty in
the amnesty process is likely to create a disincentive
for LRA officers, and even some low-level LRA combatants, who are weighing the risks and benefits of
101 “Rebel Amnesty Reinstated in Uganda,” IRIN, 30 May 2013. 102 Among other things, the ruling stated that the Act was
never meant to provide amnesty for the types of crimes on
civilians for which many LRA commanders are responsible.
For analysis of the ruling, see Sharon Nakandha, “Supreme
Court of Uganda Rules on the Application of the Amnesty Act,”
International Justice Monitor, 16 April 2015.
103 The case of former LRA commander Caesar Achellam
illustrates the current confusion in how the Ugandan government
handles LRA defectors. Achellam, one of the few old-guard LRA
officers who willingly joined the group in the 1980s, was taken
into custody by the Ugandan RTF forces in May 2012. Since
then he has been held in loose detention at a Ugandan military
base in Gulu, Uganda, allowed to leave only occasionally. The
DPP has issued an arrest warrant for him, but the military has
reportedly refused to turn him over to civilian authorities. To
complicate matters further, the Ugandan Amnesty Commission
awarded Achellam with an amnesty certificate in March 2015,
a move that seemingly contradicts the DPP arrest warrant but
nonetheless has not resulted in Achellam being allowed to
leave military custody.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 28
The “defeat” of the LRA is within reach, despite the
challenges US and RTF forces have confronted in
recent years. The LRA faces an existential crisis, lacking popular support, a means to rebuilding its core
Acholi fighting capacity, or a viable succession plan
for a future without Kony. The group’s command
structure would fracture if US and RTF forces were
to capture or kill Kony, as no other officers have the
ability to consolidate control over the LRA. Though a
few hardliners may try to reconstitute a small force,
they would find little support among the rank-andfile fighters. Such a scenario would provide an ideal
opportunity to encourage remaining LRA members to
President Obama must address persistent gaps in his
counter-LRA strategy for such an optimistic scenario
to play out. He should reinvigorate diplomatic efforts
to prevent the LRA from exploiting safe havens, while
also ensuring US advisers and their RTF partners
have the resources, access, and operational flexibility
needed to pursue LRA commanders in Kafia Kingi and
Congo. This will require reauthorizing the US military
adviser deployments in forward operating bases
in the CAR and Congo. President Obama must also
make clear that US efforts go beyond a sole focus on
capturing Kony by expanding Come Home defection
campaigns and ensuring the group no longer poses
a significant threat to civilian protection. Should he
allow the LRA to outlast his Administration, as it
has outlasted so many previous US Administrations,
President Obama will run the risk that the group will
rebuild and resume more violent atrocities against
United States forces are working with select
partner nation forces of the AU-RTF to
enhance cooperation, information-sharing
and synchronization, operational planning,
and overall effectiveness. The United States
is pursuing a comprehensive strategy to
help the governments and people of this
region in their efforts to end the threat
posed by the LRA and to address the impact
of the LRA’s atrocities.
- President Barack Obama, 14 October 2011
Six Month Consolidated War
Powers Resolution Report
Reauthorizing the US adviser deployment
The current authorization for US military advisers
to be deployed in support of OOC extends through
October 2015.104 Even though LRA abductions are
on the rise and Kony remains at large, support for
reauthorizing the mission is not uniform within the
Obama Administration. US officials initially described
the adviser deployment in terms of “months, not
years,” and in the eyes of some Defense Department
officials the increasing strain placed on US troops and
funding by counter-terrorism efforts in West Africa,
the Sahel, and the Middle East have overstretched US
military capacity and sparked a need to refocus and
reprioritize US deployments.105 Given that the LRA
poses a minimal threat to US citizens and regional
governments, Operation Observant Compass is seen
by some as a mission that should be significantly
downsized or terminated. The slow pace of progress
in degrading the LRA command structure, the uncertainty of Uganda’s commitment to the RTF, and
concerns that Congressional Republicans are growing
impatient with the mission’s accumulating logistical
and personnel costs have fueled such views.
104 Initially, the White House led an arduous interagency
decision-making process every six months to determine
whether the mission would be extended. In October 2013 and
again October 2014 the US reauthorized the deployment for a
full year, giving planners a greater window of time to develop
and implement counter-LRA strategies. 105 Author interviews with US government officials and
Congressional staffers in Washington DC and Entebbe,
October 2013 and December 2014. For the prediction that the
deployment of US military advisers would last “months, not
years,” see: Lisa Daniel, “Official: Troops in Central Africa for
Months, Not Years,” American Forces Press Service, 25 October
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 30
Despite the wishes of some Defense Department
officials, the White House is unlikely to completely
terminate the adviser deployment and assistance to
the RTF. It is also unlikely to accept a Trojan horse termination, in which the mission is officially extended
but drastically downsized by closing forward operating bases in the CAR and Congo, leaving only a small
coordination cell in Entebbe. Either scenario would
likely result in the pullout of Ugandan troops, which
would leave hundreds of thousands of civilians more
vulnerable to violence by the LRA and increase the
likelihood that sectarian conflicts in the CAR would
spread into areas currently under Ugandan control. A
US withdrawal from forward operating bases would
also give LRA forces a chance to rebuild their fighting
force and scale up illicit trafficking. At home, it would
be a stinging admission of failure on one of the President’s most high-profile initiatives in Africa. It would
draw the ire of members of Congress and grassroots
activists in the US who have given the Administration
a clear political mandate to decisively end the LRA
crisis and strengthen the precedent for US response
to situations of international mass atrocities.
Instead of terminating or drastically downsizing
the mission, the White House should ensure the
Defense Department develops proposals for how to
translate the lessons learned of the first four years
of Operation Observant Compass into tangible progress in the field. In reauthorizing the mission, the
Defense Department should seek to strengthen the
continuity and consistency of the partnerships between US advisers in the field and RTF contingents.
The US should also seek to mitigate the upheaval
that comes with rotating US adviser teams every six
months. In addition to keeping a State Department
field representative based in Entebbe, the Defense
Department should facilitate the deployment of an
additional State Department field representative to
the US military base in Obo, with frequent travel to
the US base in Dungu. Alternatively, a civilian Defense
Department staff member could take on such a position. In either scenario, the civilian field representative could be deployed for six-month rotations that
are staggered with those of the US military advisers
to help ensure continuity in US relations with both
RTF and UN peacekeeping partners. They would also
be more likely to deepen engagement with local civil
society leaders who are willing to share information
on LRA activity and partner on defection campaigns.
Improving airlift and intel support
The Defense Department must also streamline and
improve bureaucratic processes for fulfilling requests
from OOC commanders for airlift and intelligence
support to the mission. Defense planners must rely
more on field personnel with experience working on
the LRA crisis to avoid replicating previous mismanaged deployments and ensure airlift and intelligence
assets are appropriate to the counter-LRA context. In
the field, US advisers should be given the freedom
to develop more flexible flight plans that lower US
and RTF response times to LRA attacks, defection
opportunities, and intelligence on the location of LRA
In the words of one former US military intelligence
analyst, “Removing Kony and his LRA from the battlefield is, foremost, an intelligence problem.”106 To
improve intelligence collection, US military advisers
and their civilian counterparts should be encouraged
to prioritize consistent engagement with nomadic
herders, traders, artisanal miners, hunters, and other
groups that have frequent contact with LRA groups.
Such engagement should be institutionalized within
the mission so that incoming advisers teams are
briefed on how important such engagement is and
how to best pursue such intelligence in LRA-affected
areas. The Defense Department should also deploy
aerial and ground-based assets that take advantage
of tips from human networks and complement the
overall intelligence picture of where LRA groups are
operating and how they are surviving. The Department should also seek to deploy US intelligence
analysts to the field that have experience on the
LRA crisis and encourage them to do develop deeper
analyses of the LRA’s internal command structure,
movement patterns, and interactions with civilians
and other armed groups. To make their job easier,
analysts and forward deployed advisers should be
encouraged to aggressively declassify information on
LRA activity and proactively share it with RTF forces,
UN peacekeeping personnel, and civil society groups,
so that all actors may contribute to and benefit from
a common operating picture of LRA activity.
106 Draper, “Intelligence in Complex Environments,” 2014.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 31
Disrupting LRA safe havens in Kafia Kingi
For five years, Sudan has allowed the LRA to steadily
deepen its roots in the border areas between Kafia
Kingi, South Darfur, and northeastern CAR and use
the region to sell illicit ivory and shield senior LRA
commanders from US and RTF operations. The poor
relations and limited leverage the US and its partners
have with Khartoum is often cited as an excuse to
minimize engagement with Sudanese officials on
the issue. However, Khartoum may prove willing to
cooperate if confronted with even a light mixture of
pressure and incentives because the weakened LRA
provides it with little strategic value. The US and its
partners should employ a diplomatic strategy aimed
at securing Sudan’s cooperation on three fronts:
stopping any provision of support to LRA forces by
the SAF; arresting or expelling any senior LRA commanders who venture into territory it controls; and
allowing Ugandan RTF troops to pursue LRA forces
into Kafia Kingi and South Darfur.
Diplomatic outreach to Khartoum will require a
united front from the international counter-LRA coalition. The AU and UN must energize – quickly – their
engagement of Khartoum. This will require cooperation between AU special envoy Lt. Gen. Jackson
Tuwei, the AU HIP mediators, UNOCA chief Abdoulaye Bathily, and UNOAU Special Representative Haile
Menkerios. Ideally, all four offices would convene
in coming months to develop a strong message and
send a representative to Khartoum to deliver it. The
US can strengthen their hand by ensuring the UN Security Council continues to highlight the presence of
LRA forces in Sudanese-controlled territory.
The US should also encourage Ugandan government
officials to engage with Sudanese officials directly or
through forums such as the International Conference
on the Great Lakes Region. The Ugandan government
should explore what steps it could take, such as expelling representatives of Darfuri armed groups from
its territory, to secure Khartoum’s cooperation in
counter-LRA efforts. Finally, the US should strengthen its own bilateral engagement with Khartoum. US
Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan Donald
Booth should be more proactive in elevating the LRA
crisis with Sudanese officials. He should work closely
with the US Charge d’Affairs in Khartoum, Ambassador Jerry Lanier, who is familiar with US counter-LRA
efforts from his previous stint as US ambassador to
Meanwhile, US and Ugandan troops should not sit
idle in hopes that Sudan has a change of heart. Until
Khartoum demonstrates a tangible willingness to cooperate, US and Ugandan forces should conduct joint
operations to apprehend Kony and senior LRA officers
operating in Kafia Kingi and prevent them from selling illicit natural resources.107 To facilitate operations
in Kafia Kingi, OOC commanders should continue efforts to establish a base or staging location near Sam
Ouandja in the CAR and Raga in South Sudan. Establishing a more permanent presence in Sam Ouandja
will require delicate relationship building with the
Seleka forces that currently control the town, which
should be done in coordination with the US Embassy
in Bangui and MINUSCA officials.108 The US should
also facilitate the movement of Ugandan RTF troops
to locations closer to the Kafia Kingi border.
Having a more sustained presence closer to Kafia
Kingi will ease each stage of conducting operations. It
will allow US advisers to build information networks
with Seleka troops, traders, and LRA attack victims
who come into contact with LRA groups and provide
a staging ground for operations against LRA commanders, which may require temporary surges of US
airlift capacity. Finally, a US presence closer to Kafia
Kingi will improve the reach of defection campaigns
targeting Kony’s group, which should include radio
programming, leaflet distributions, and aerial loudspeaker flights. Such campaigns also serve to sensitize
Seleka forces and civilians on how to facilitate LRA
defections and incentivize them to share information
on LRA activity by highlighting the Defense Department’s rewards program and the State Department’s
War Crimes Rewards program.
107 According to the terms of the 2005 Comprehensive
Peace Agreement that led to the partitioning of Sudan and the
birth of South Sudan, Kafia Kingi belongs to South Sudan. US
and Ugandan troops may use this to provide legal justification
for conducting operations there, as South Sudan is party to
the AU’s regional counter-LRA operation. Such a justification
would not be valid in justifying RTF operations in South Darfur
proper however, making it less likely the US and RTF would
plan operations there unless they had the permission of the
Sudanese government.
108 Seleka officials based in Sam Ouandja were upset that they
did not receive any rewards money from the US government for
their role in transferring LRA commander Dominic Ongwen into
US custody in January 2015. “LRA’s Dominic Ongwen ‘capture’:
Seleka rebels want $5m reward,” BBC News, 9 January 2015.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 32
Preventing LRA attacks and poaching
in Congo
The US must work to overcome the inertia that has
allowed northeastern Congo to become a safe haven
and source of illicit ivory for LRA groups. US advisers
should continue training and providing intelligence
and airlift to the Congolese RTF unit. The capacity of
the Congolese RTF unit will remain limited, so the US
is smart to encourage them to concentrate operations
in areas near Garamba National Park, which is close
to their logistical hub in Dungu. The US should also
ensure that recent progress in securing MONUSCO’s
logistical support to the RTF and enhanced civilian
protection patrols in Haut Uele is not lost.
US military advisers should develop better intelligence on LRA groups operating in Bas Uele district
and assist Congolese RTF troops in conducting short,
targeted operations there when opportunities develop. US and Ugandan officials should work with
the AU to reengage the Congolese government on
obtaining permission for Ugandan troops to conduct
cross-border operations in Bas Uele when they have
intelligence on LRA group locations or are in hot pursuit of LRA groups fleeing from eastern CAR to Congo.
The US should also build on promising efforts to collaborate with natural resource management officials
to close off the LRA’s access to Garamba National
Park and the Bili-Uele Reserve. US advisers stationed
in Dungu should expand cooperation and information
sharing with authorities in Garamba Park and provide training to their park rangers if necessary. The
US should also expand funding for the US Fish and
Wildlife Service to support the rangers and community-based conservation programs. The ultimate goal
should be establishing a network of protected areas
stretching from Garamba Park and the Bili-Uele Protected Area in Congo to the Chinko Reserve in eastern
CAR in which authorities in each location cooperate
on information sharing and conservation efforts. Expanding defection campaigns
The US military’s defection campaigns in LRA-affected
areas have been, dollar for dollar, its most valuable
contribution to the US counter-LRA effort. The US
role in defection initiatives will be even more critical
in the coming months because Invisible Children
and other partners are downsizing their messaging
campaigns. The recent drop in combatant defections from the LRA is less an indication of declining
will among LRA members to defect and more a reflection of the struggles current campaigns have in
reaching LRA groups. US defense officials from the
various command headquarters that oversee OOC
must embrace defection messaging and ensure it is
institutionalized more strongly in the mission. They
must ensure OOC commanders and adviser teams
in the field understand that defection campaigns are
a core piece of their work and integrate them into
their regular work plans, including offensive operations in pursuit of LRA groups. US defense officials
must also provide the mission with the funding to
expand defection campaigns and cut red tape that
prevents MISO teams from spending allocated funds
and rapidly responding to opportunities, such as the
defection of senior LRA commanders.
In the field, US advisers and the MISO team should
have a simple goal: double the scale of all their defection messaging efforts over the next year. This
goal should encompass leaflets distributed, aerial
loudspeaker missions flown, and the hours per week
that UBC shortwave radio and regional FM radios
play Come Home defection programs. Doing so will
require expanded airlift capacity for the mission so
that leaflet distribution and loudspeaker missions are
not halted when pursuit operations require expanded airlift support.
US defection campaigns must get smarter as well as
expanding in scope. US military personnel and State
Department field representatives should engage
more deeply with civil society groups to ensure
communities are willing and prepared to help LRA
combatants who attempt to surrender. They should
also continue to build relationships with Ugandan
former LRA combatants and civil society leaders
and incorporate their advice to nuance defection
messages to minimize Kony’s counter-propaganda
efforts. The State Department should also encourage
the Ugandan government’s Department of Public
Prosecutions to develop and communicate a consistent policy regarding which LRA combatants will be
offered amnesty and which ones will face charges if
they defect.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 33
Promoting protection and human rights
The increase in LRA attacks and abductions since
2014, particularly in northeastern Congo, highlights
the need for US military advisers, RTF forces, and
UN peacekeeping missions to more deeply integrate
civilian protection strategies into counter-LRA operations.109 Several recommendations already mentioned above, such as declassifying information about
LRA activity and expanding two-way communication
with NGOs and civil society groups, could achieve
progress towards this goal at minimal cost. Such engagement will require US military advisers to more
consistently and proactively engage with community
leaders in Obo, Dungu, and other LRA-affected areas,
perhaps by reviving weekly community meetings.
The State Department should also encourage the AU
to deploy civilian protection experts to the field to
advise RTF forces and develop operational guidelines
on accountability and civilian protection.
US military advisers should also work with RTF partners to ensure any operation aimed at pursuing LRA
groups include plans for how to mitigate risks to civilians in surrounding communities from subsequent
LRA attacks. Though the LRA has committed few reprisal attacks in recent years, they frequently launch
resupply raids on civilians if military operations destroy their food supplies. US advisers should also help
Ugandan RTF forces incorporate tactics into their
operations that seek to minimize the risk of harming
women, children, and other unarmed abductees
within LRA ranks. The Obama Administration must also ensure that
its focus on counter-LRA operations does not dilute
US diplomacy to address pressing human rights and
governance crises in the region. This is particularly
important in Uganda, which may try to use its close
working relationship with the US in addressing the
LRA crisis to deflect attention from its poor human
rights and governance record. While the US will
likely face the most domestic pressure to respond
to anti-homosexuality legislation, equal attention is
needed on the restriction of political space in the
country, particularly as the 2016 national elections
approach. 109 For more in-depth recommendations on how these forces
can improve civilian protection, see: Shepard, “In New Light,”
2015, and SAIPED and The Resolve, “Healing MONUSCO’s
Image,” 2014.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 34
Defeating the LRA would dramatically improve dayto-day security for hundreds of thousands of people
living in eastern CAR, northeastern Congo, and
western South Sudan. It would encourage displaced
persons to return to their homes and fields and spur
economic activity. It would also remove a source of
friction between affected communities and their
national governments and give authoritiess an opportunity to address the conditions that marginalized
these communities and made them susceptible to
LRA violence in the first place. Still, ridding the region
of the LRA is just one step towards rebuilding affected
communities that have suffered widespread displacement, mass abductions, and collective trauma.
We are committed to working…in pursuit
of the future of peace and dignity that the
people who have suffered at the hands of
the LRA deserve.
Case study: Gaps in reintegration support
One of USAID’s most pressing challenges is addressing the lack of reintegration support available to
people who escape the LRA and the communities to
which they return home. In northern Uganda, one of
the most enduring legacies of the conflict is the tens
of thousands of youth and adults who were abducted by the LRA. At the peak of the crisis there in the
1990s and early 2000s, community organizations and
donors funded robust reintegration programs that
provided psychosocial counseling and fast-tracked
skills development to some returnees, as well as
community sensitization campaigns to mitigate social
stigmatization. Since 2006, the last year the LRA was
active in northern Uganda, the number of Ugandans
escaping from the LRA has slowed considerably,
leading to a tremendous drop in donor funding for
reintegration programs.
—President Barack Obama, 24 May 2010,
Statement upon signing The LRA Disarmament and
Northern Uganda Recovery Act
If President Obama is to help LRA-affected communities beyond catching Kony, he will have to ensure his
counter-LRA strategy fulfills its promise to be a comprehensive response to the crisis. Since 2010, USAID
and the State Department have supported some
innovative projects aimed at protecting civilians, reintegrating ex-LRA abductees back into their communities, and healing the wounds left from a brutal conflict.
But US programs have frequently been underfunded,
delayed, and hampered by a lack of coordination and
vision. In his remaining 18 months in office, President
Obama will have to expand US investment in civilian
protection, reintegration, and economic recovery
programs and encourage the European Union, World
Bank, and other institutional donors to do the same.
More importantly, given pressure on the US foreign
aid budget, the White House must lean on USAID
officials to develop a more comprehensive vision for
programming in LRA-affected areas and emphasize
more timely and efficient project implementation.
Young Central African girl who spent several months in LRA captivity
after being abducted in the town of Djemah. © Paul Ronan
Still, more than 55 Ugandan adult male combatants
and 62 Ugandan women and children have returned
from the LRA since 2012, many having spent over a
decade in captivity.110 Upon returning to northern
Uganda, they are met by a crumbling reintegration
infrastructure that is ill-equipped to assist them.
This infrastructure has particular difficulty absorbing
the periodic large influxes of Ugandan women and
110 LRA Crisis Tracker, statistic calculated 16 June 2015.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 35
children who escape from the LRA, including large
groups in March 2013 and August 2014. They typically receive several weeks of care and counseling
before being left to fend for themselves with whatever limited support family members are able to
provide them.111
been held in captivity for three or fewer days, typically forced to carry looted goods towards LRA camps
after their community is attacked. Even these shortterm abductions are traumatic for survivors, who fear
for their lives and are often subject to beatings and
physical exhaustion during the ordeal.
Reintegration support for Ugandan combatants who
defect from the LRA or are captured by military forces
is also minimal. Senior LRA officers are frequently
held in custody in the town of Gulu by the Ugandan
military for months after they escape. Though they
enjoy limited freedom of movement, they receive no
counseling or educational training and are unable to
work.112 Some former combatants have joined the
Ugandan military to fight the LRA, either under pressure from military officials or for lack of better options,
though this practice has waned in recent years.113
The Amnesty Commission has been decimated by
funding cuts from its former donor, the World Bank,
and largely ignored by the Ugandan government,
creating long delays in giving LRA returnees amnesty
certificates. In March 2015 the Amnesty Commission
finally addressed its backlog, distributing certificates
to more than 80 people who had returned from the
LRA in recent years in an event funded by international agencies.114 Despite the renewal of the Amnesty Act in May 2015, the Commission’s future remains
unclear, as reports indicate Amnesty Commission
branches in northern Uganda were shut down and
staff laid off in April 2015.115
Central Africans, Congolese, and South Sudanese
who escape from the LRA face a series of obstacles
during the reintegration process. UN agencies, the
International Committee of the Red Cross, and the
Ugandan military have worked out standard operating procedures for receiving returnees and settling
them with families or into host communities, but
those who escape the LRA in a country other than
their country of origin frequently spend weeks or
months in transition. USAID, UNICEF, and NGOs have
funded programs to provide some children who
return from the LRA with counseling and educational
assistance, but several of these programs have been
shut down due to lack of funding. Little international
support has ever been provided to the thousands of
adults who spent time in LRA captivity.117
Since 2008, the LRA has abducted over 6,500 people
from the CAR, Congo, and South Sudan.116 Most of
these abductees have escaped, were intentionally
released by LRA commanders, or were captured
by military or self-defense forces. At least 350 have
spent six months or more in the LRA and have experienced repeated trauma. Many have been forced to
kill and attack other civilians and do intensive labor.
Girls and women have been raped and forced to bear
children for LRA officers. Many more returnees have
111 Interviews with former LRA members and community
leaders, Gulu, September and November 2014.
112 Ibid.
113 Ledio Cakaj, “Too Far from Home: Demobilizing the Lord’s
Resistance Army,” The Enough Project, February 2011.
114 Alex Otto, “Top LRA commanders, Returnees Undergo
Ritual Cleansing,” Uganda Radio Network, 9 March 2015.
115 Author email exchange with NGO representative in Gulu,
May 2015.
116 LRA Crisis Tracker, statistic calculated 16 June 2015.
LRA-affected communities in the CAR, Congo, and
South Sudan who shoulder the burden of integrating
LRA returnees are highly stressed. Returnees’ family
members and neighbors, even if they have not been
abducted by the LRA, have frequently been the victims of other forms of LRA violence. One study found
that 71% of respondents in Western Equatoria had
been directly affected by LRA attacks (e.g. direct violence, displacement, theft) and 17% had a household
member killed by the LRA.118 This collective trauma,
set in the context of decades of economic exclusion
and political marginalization, limits the ability of communities to help returnees address their trauma and
rebuild their livelihoods. Some returnees, particularly
those who exhibit “strange” behavior and women
with children fathered by LRA commanders, face
some form of social exclusion.119
117 Dr. Emilie Medeiros, “Back but not home: supporting the
reintegration of former LRA abductees into civilian life in Congo
and South Sudan,” Conciliation Resources, August 2014.
118 Danish Refugee Council and Danish Demining Group,
“Armed Violence and Stabilization in Western Equatoria,” 2013.
119 Lindsay Branham and Jocelyn Kelly, “We Suffer from War
and More War: Assessment of the Impact of the Lord’s Resistance
Army on Formerly Abducted Children and Their Communities in
Northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Discover the
Journey and Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, 2012.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 36
Community organizations, often linked to traditional or religious institutions, have had some success
pioneering reintegration programs despite limited
resources. In several Central African communities,
LRA returnees have formed a “victim’s association”
that provides assistance to new returnees, peer
counseling services, and gives returnees a voice in
the community. In Congo, the Mama Bongisa Center
for Reintegration and Development has helped
women abducted by the LRA or otherwise victimized
by the conflict form support groups and start small
businesses that help them support their families. In
South Sudan, the Inter-Church Peace Committee,
composed of six Christian denominations, has conducted several community healing programs that
combine conventional trauma healing techniques
with traditional Zande cultural practices.
USAID’s counter-LRA struggles
USAID and the State Department have been the lead
agencies in implementing the civilian programs that
fall under the umbrella of President Obama’s LRA
strategy. A majority of US aid to LRA-affected areas,
over $87 million since 2010, has been dedicated to
food assistance, humanitarian protection, health
and livelihoods initiatives, and other emergency aid
programs.120 USAID has provided an additional $8.5
million in assistance since 2010 to UNICEF to support
the rehabilitation and reintegration of children who
have escaped LRA captivity, as well as other youth
affected by LRA atrocities.121
USAID has also launched several innovative protection and recovery programs in LRA-affected areas,
including a partnership with Vodacom to expand
mobile phone coverage in northeastern Congo. The
$300,000 project provided nearly 50,000 civilians in
four LRA-affected communities with mobile phone
coverage. The agency also supported cash-for-work
programs in Haut Uele to boost small businesses and
rehabilitate community infrastructure. In 2012, USAID
launched its most ambitious program to date, the
Secure, Empowered, Connected Communities (SECC)
initiative, which has aimed to strengthen civilian early
warning networks, community protection strategies,
social cohesion, and FM radios in LRA-affected areas
of the CAR and Congo. Some USAID programs have
greatly increased civilian security despite not being
specifically targeted at the LRA crisis, such as the
120 US State Department, “Fact Sheet,” 2014.
121 Ibid.
agency’s national road-building program preceding
South Sudan’s independence that helped improve
access for aid groups and military forces to remote
areas in Western Equatoria vulnerable to LRA attack.
However, USAID has struggled to find the funding
necessary to fully implement the vision outlined in
President Obama’s counter-LRA strategy, which was
released in November 2010, the same month as
a landslide of fiscal conservatives were voted into
Congress. Since then, Congress has enacted significant cuts to State Department, Foreign Operations,
and Related Programs (SFOPs) appropriations, which
include most US foreign aid.122 Renewed humanitarian crises in the CAR, Congo, and South Sudan have
further stretched USAID’s more limited resources.
With the support of grassroots activists, Congressional appropriators have set aside $20 million in recent
budgets for USAID programming in LRA-affected
areas, which has mitigated cuts to assistance there.
The implementation of the projects in LRA-affected
areas that USAID has been able to fund have been
frequently delayed. The mobile phone tower project
in eastern Congo was first conceived in 2010 and
planned for completion by the fall of 2012, but implementation was repeatedly delayed, in part due
to logistical and security barriers and challenges in
working with Vodacom.123 The towers were finally installed in four locations between April and December
2013. The implementation of SECC's early warning
program in LRA-affected areas of eastern CAR was
also delayed, partially due to the coup and outbreak
of sectarian violence.
USAID’s checkered track record in LRA-affected areas
cannot be blamed entirely on limited funding and
regional insecurity. Frequent staff turnover, poor coordination, and inadequate on-the-ground oversight
have played a major role in USAID’s struggles to form
a coherent vision for its programs in LRA-affected
122 Congressional SFOPs appropriations in FY2010 and FY2011
were approximately $49 billion each year, and have hovered
between $39-$42 billion from FY2012-2015. These numbers
include only “enduring” programs, not Overseas Contingency
Operations (OCO) funding, which targets only Iraq, Afghanistan,
and Pakistan. Susan B. Epstein, Marian L. Lawson, and Alex
Tiersky, “State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs:
FY2016 Budget and Appropriations,” Congressional Research
Service, 9 April 2015.
123 Author interviews, Washington DC, Dungu, and Kampala,
April 2013, October 2013, and September 2014.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 37
areas and ensure that its partners are implementing
programs efficiently.124 USAID has struggled to find a
home for the LRA portfolio, which requires coordination between several different country offices in
east and central Africa and was recently shifted from
USAID’s regional office in Nairobi to its office in Kinshasa. In Congo, coordination between the existing
HF early warning system and a new system supported
by SECC has been uneven and slow, raising concerns
that the USAID program may add limited value to
civilian protection efforts there without steps to improve collaboration.125
In late 2013, USAID hired a contractor to conduct
an assessment of programming possibilities, but the
assessment was repeatedly delayed. Consequently, it
will not be completed in time to inform how the $10
million Congress dedicated for LRA-affected areas in
its FY2015 budget will be spent, limiting USAID’s ability to ensure that it is enacting the programs that fill
the most urgent protection and reintegration needs.
Improving foreign aid in LRA-affected areas
President Obama still has time to strengthen his
modest legacy of civilian assistance to LRA-affected
communities over the remaining 18 months of his
tenure. This will likely require White House staff to
lean harder on USAID to ensure its programs better
target areas of need and are implemented more efficiently. Senior USAID officials should provide more
stable and consistent oversight on the LRA portfolio,
allow staff to travel more frequently to LRA-affected
areas, and ensure the needs assessment is completed without further delay. Ultimately, USAID should
develop a strategy for its programming that is coordinated with other projects both in LRA-affected areas
and in the broader region. Realizing such a vision will
require Congress and the Administration to expand,
even if slightly, funds dedicated to LRA-affected communities.
incorporate an array of tools that can be customized
as appropriate by communities, including inter-communal dialogue, vocational training, community
infrastructure improvements, and trauma counseling
and psychosocial support. Such programs can mitigate the risk of localized flare-ups of conflict as well
as help prevent other armed groups from finding a
foothold in the region.
USAID should also seek to fill gaps in civilian protection mechanisms, including by replicating the cheap
but effective mobile phone tower model to areas
where they do not currently exist. USAID should also
begin expanding programs to strengthen livelihoods
in LRA-affected communities and promote local markets and economic recovery. In all its programming,
the agency should ensure more of its funding builds
the capacity of community organizations that have an
intimate understanding of and a long-term presence
in affected communities.
European donors, the UN, and the World Bank must
also bear a greater burden in assisting LRA-affected
communities. The White House and State Department should use bilateral meetings and biannual LRA
experts’ forums organized by UNOCA to pressure
them to expand programming that incorporates
longer funding cycles. In particular, international
partners should fund reintegration projects and economic recovery initiatives, including infrastructure
improvement. In particular, the latter should include
the long-awaited rehabilitation of the severely
degraded road between Obo and South Sudan, a
key cross-border trade link and access route for aid
groups and military forces.
USAID should particularly prioritize reintegration and
community cohesion programs that benefit adults
and children who have returned from the LRA, while
also providing benefits to traumatized communities
receiving LRA returnees. Such programming should
124 Author interviews, Washington DC, Entebbe, and Kampala,
September 2014, December 2014, and March 2015.
125 Author’s full disclosure: Invisible Children, The Resolve’s
partner on the LRA Crisis Tracker project, provides funding and
support to the existing HF early warning network in Congo.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 38
President Obama has made significant strides in
institutionalizing prevention and response to mass
atrocities within US foreign policy. In particular, he
launched the Atrocities Prevention Board (APB) in
April 2012, which seeks to improve interagency coordination and strengthen US efforts to prevent and
respond to mass atrocities.126 Though the APB has not
played a leading role in shaping US policy towards the
LRA crisis, Administration officials have frequently
cited the US counter-LRA strategy as an example of its
atrocity response record.127 While President Obama’s
counter-LRA strategy is still active, its implementation
so far does provide lessons for how the US can better
prevent and respond to mass atrocities.
One of the most enduring lessons of President
Obama’s response to the LRA crisis is the importance
of having a White House-level strategy in developing
a comprehensive, whole-of-government response to
the crisis. The failure of Operation Lightning Thunder
to anticipate and prevent massive LRA reprisal attacks
in 2008 demonstrated the disastrous consequences
of military strikes that fail to incorporate civilian protection strategies and adequate aid to affected communities. The 2010 LRA bill, by requiring President
Obama to develop an interagency strategy, sparked
greater coordination between the State Department,
USAID, and Defense Department and a more comprehensive US approach to the crisis. White House
officials used the counter-LRA strategy as a reason to
develop a regular rhythm of high-level interagency
meetings, both at the principals and deputies level,
and to exert pressure on individual agencies to deliver on their responsibilities. The steady, bipartisan
pressure from Congress to implement the strategy
strengthened the hand of Administration officials
126 The Board has been challenged by an overall lack
of dedicated resources in the Administration, difficulties
coordinating between different US agencies and departments,
and inadequate communication with NGOs and Congress.
James Finkel, “Atrocity Prevention at the Crossroads: Assessing
the President’s Atrocity Prevention Board After Two Years,”
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Center for the
Prevention of Genocide, September 2014.
127 President Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President at
the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum,” Speech given
at United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 23 April 2012;
Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human
Rights Dr. Sarah Sewall, “Making Progress: U.S. Prevention of
Mass Atrocities,” Speech given at Chicago Council on Global
Affairs, 24 April 2015.
pushing for a more robust response to the crisis.
Grassroots lobbying was critical in generating bipartisan support for both the 2010 bill and subsequent
Congressional letters and legislation concerning
implementation of the strategy, even after several
champions of the 2010 bill left office.
It is part of our regional strategy to end the
scourge that is the LRA, and help realize a
future where no African child is stolen from
their family and no girl is raped and no boy
is turned into a child soldier.
—President Barack Obama, 23 April 2012,
Remarks at the United States Holocaust
Memorial Museum
Operation Observant Compass also provides valuable
lessons on the US military’s potential role in atrocity
response. Though Ugandan RTF forces have continued to play the leading role in counter-LRA operations, US logistical support and military advisers have
helped realize the significant progress to date on
dismantling the LRA’s command structure and reducing the group’s worst mass atrocities. In the field, the
collaboration between the State Department’s rotating LRA field representatives and OOC commanders
has established a positive precedent, with the former
providing an important bridge to civil society groups,
UN agencies, and diplomatic partners. The collaboration between military advisers, the State Department,
and civil society groups on defection campaigns and
civilian early warning networks also provides a partial
model for how the US can address other mass atrocity crises on the continent. US boots on the ground
also elevated the profile of the counter-LRA strategy
within the US government, ensuring the continuation
of regular high-level interagency meetings on the
crisis even as LRA atrocities became less severe in
recent years.
However, Operation Observant Compass has also
highlighted the need for future Administrations to
boost civilian programming aimed at preventing
and responding to mass atrocities. Even though the
President’s strategy emphasized a comprehensive
response to the LRA crisis, its implementation has
also highlighted the tremendous imbalance in the
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 39
resources available to the Defense Department
versus the State Department, USAID, and other civilian agencies. Annual LRA-focused USAID and State
Department programming has been dwarfed by what
the Defense Department has spent on counter-LRA
efforts each year since deploying US military advisers
in late 2011. This imbalance is reflective of a broader
disparity between foreign aid and defense spending
that has been a consistent feature of the US budget
for decades and has been exacerbated by more fiscally conservative Congresses since 2010. Though
USAID officials must be held to account for inadequate oversight and attention to projects that were
delayed or limited in impact, inadequate funding has
provided them little margin for error. USAID’s funding shortages have also prevented it from scaling up
projects that showed promise, such as the expansion
of mobile phone infrastructure. In the meantime,
Operation Observant Compass has been allowed to
make massive investments, such as certain contracts
for aerial intelligence assets and the construction of
elaborate military bases, whose per-dollar value-added was extremely low. Future US responses should
emphasize a more balanced approach that includes
greater investment in civilian early warning networks,
reintegration and trauma healing programs, and programs to jumpstart local economies and livelihoods
in affected communities.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 40
President Obama’s legacy on the LRA crisis will ultimately be most acutely felt by the hundreds of thousands of civilians who continue to live in fear of LRA
attacks. If his strategy ultimately fails and the counter-LRA coalition disbands, the LRA will have the space
it needs to once again rebuild, strengthen its fighting
force, and expand attacks and abductions across
eastern CAR, northern Congo, and South Sudan. But
with decisive leadership in the remaining months of
his presidency to strengthen the counter-LRA coalition, President Obama could succeed in dismantling
the LRA’s command structure, encouraging LRA com-
batants to defect, and permanently ending the LRA’s
predatory attacks. Equally important to President
Obama’s legacy on the LRA crisis is whether USAID
and other donors are able to expand programs in
affected areas to rebuild shattered livelihoods, reintegrate those who have escaped from the LRA, and heal
traumatized communities.
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 41
The author collected information contained in this
report from a variety of sources, including firsthand
interviews with 15 former members of the LRA. Additional interviews were conducted with civil society
leaders and aid workers in LRA-affected areas; representatives from the United Nations, African Union,
and donor countries; and representatives from regional governments and military forces. Published
© August 2015 The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative
Most interviews took place during field research conducted in October 2012, October 2013, September
and November 2014, and February and July 2015.
Locations visited during these research trips include:
Bakouma, Bangui, Bria, Obo, and Sam Ouandja, CAR;
Bitima, Dungu, Faradje, Nagero, and Tadu, Congo;
Yambio and Nzara, South Sudan; and Entebbe, Gulu
and Kampala, Uganda. Extensive information was
also collected from a review of existing literature
on the LRA crisis, as well as previous interviews in
LRA-affected areas conducted by the authors.
To protect sources, the author has withheld the exact
locations and dates of interviews, or the precise affiliation of interviewees, in some footnotes. Author
Paul Ronan (@pauldronan) is a co-founder of The
Resolve, and currently serves as the Project Director.
He co-manages The LRA Crisis Tracker, a project that
analyzes trends in LRA violence and activity. Paul
travels frequently to Uganda and LRA-affected areas
of the CAR, Congo, and South Sudan. He is also a frequent contributor to media outlets, Congressional
briefings, and think tank forums. Prior to co-founding
The Resolve, he worked in the Caritas International
and Franciscans International UN advocacy offices in
New York.
Cartography and Graphs
Kenneth Transier is the primary cartographer and
designer for the LRA Crisis Tracker.
DUO Designs,
Cover photo
Road sign near Duru, Congo. © Paul Ronan
President Obama's Chance to Define His Legacy on the LRA Crisis | August 2015 42
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