CTFP In Action: East African Alumni Take on the LRA
By: Dennis Walters
If there is one thing we in the global combating-terrorism community have learned from our adversaries, it is the power of the network. The global reach and collective knowledge a network affords are excellent force multipliers. In keeping with this understanding, many of our alumni are reconnecting with us and their counterparts in other countries with requests for assistance or to share lessons learned.
So it came as no surprise when one of our African alumni contacted us and requested we assist him in gaining a broader understanding of regional efforts directed against the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). We quickly canvassed our rolls for available subject matter experts and put the call out to our East African alumni. We soon had a venue to hold our LRA working group thanks to the efforts of the U.S. Embassy in Kampala and its Ugandan staff. A short list of CT experts in East Africa was soon compiled, and we began preparations for an in-depth look at the LRA and efforts to counter it.
As we got further into our research, it was obvious a great deal of interest in the LRA had been stimulated when President Obama signed into law the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act in May 2010. This landmark legislation received broad support in the U.S. Congress with 65 senators and 201 representatives voting in favor. It is no small wonder many Americans felt compelled to support legislation against a group as violent as the Lord's Resistance Army: the child abductions and gender-based violence perpetrated by the LRA are infamous in East Africa. In general terms, the law makes it U.S. policy to support efforts "to protect civilians from the Lord's Resistance Army, to apprehend or remove Joseph Kony and his top commanders from the battlefield in the continued absence of a negotiated solution, and to disarm and demobilize the remaining LRA fighters." It also requires President Obama to develop a comprehensive, multilateral strategy to protect civilians in central Africa from LRA attacks and take steps to permanently stop the rebel group's violence. Furthermore, it calls on the United States to increase humanitarian assistance to countries currently affected by LRA violence and to support economic recovery and transitional justice efforts in Uganda. The language in the law was both ambitious and straightforward.
In Kampala, we listened to representatives from South Sudan and Uganda describe their joint efforts to oust the LRA from the border regions between the two countries. Their success was nothing short of phenomenal, and should serve as a template for future multinational counterterrorism operations. Because of the joint efforts, the combat effectiveness of the LRA was greatly reduced, and it was denied freedom to maneuver in what had once been its stronghold. Current estimates put the strength of the LRA at only 400 to 500 fighters, and it has been relegated to operating in and around a large national park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Given the greatly reduced strength of the LRA, we asked the working group's participants where they ranked the LRA as a threat to the national security of their countries. Not surprisingly, none of the countries ranked the LRA as the most dangerous threat. Various regional disagreements, health concerns, and crime all ranked higher than the LRA. The representatives from the DRC did make it clear that they consider the LRA's presence on their soil a regional problem and emphasized that they should not be expected to deal with it alone—a point with which all the participants readily agreed.
With the LRA's reduced combat effectiveness and other, more pressing regional concerns, it would seem the recent passage of the LRA Disarmament law in the United States is both late and unnecessary. Not quite. Any number of geopolitical problems in East Africa can be indirectly addressed through multinational cooperation directed against the LRA. Greater cooperation at the tactical and operational levels can also foster greater cooperation at the strategic level. The CTFP alumni in East Africa are well positioned to help develop this cooperation.
About the Author(s): Dr. Dennis Walters is the Director of the Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program and is a former U.S. special operator.