In May 2010, President Obama signed into law the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, which reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to support regional partners’ efforts to end the atrocities of the LRA in central Africa. For nearly three decades, the LRA has murdered, raped, and kidnapped tens of thousands of innocent men, women, and children. As of December 2013, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) estimated that approximately 326,000 people were displaced or living as refugees across the Central African Republic (C.A.R.), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (D.R.C.), and South Sudan as a result of the LRA threat.
The United States’ comprehensive, multi-year strategy seeks to help the Governments of Uganda, the C.A.R., the D.R.C., and South Sudan as well as the African Union and United Nations to mitigate and end the threat posed to civilians and regional stability by the LRA. The strategy outlines four key objectives for U.S. support: (1) the increased protection of civilians; (2) the apprehension or removal of Joseph Kony and senior LRA commanders from the battlefield; (3) the promotion of defections and support of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of remaining LRA fighters; and (4) the provision of continued humanitarian relief to affected communities.
There are significant challenges in pursuing small groups of LRA and protecting local populations across this vast, densely forested area that lacks basic road and telecommunications infrastructure. The United States – through the Department of Defense, Department of State, and U.S. Agency for International Development – has pursued innovative, multi-faceted efforts to help regional partners overcome those challenges.
Over recent years, the national military forces working as part of the African Union Regional Task Force (AU-RTF) and affected communities have significantly reduced the LRA’s capacity to attack civilians and wreak havoc. Between 2010 and 2013, based on reporting from UN OCHA, there was a 50 percent decrease in the number of people abducted by the LRA and a 75 percent decrease in the number of people killed by the LRA. Since 2012, the African Union-led forces have removed two of the LRA’s top five commanders from the battlefield, and we have credible reporting that a third, Okot Odhiambo – who was the LRA’s second-in-command and an International Criminal Court indictee – was killed late last year. During that time, the number of defections and releases from the LRA has also dramatically increased, further reducing the LRA’s capacity. According to UN reporting, as of December 2013, the number of people displaced by the LRA threat had decreased by over 25 percent from a year ago.
The lines of effort in which the United States is engaged include:
Increasing Civilian Protection: The protection of civilians is a priority for the U.S. strategy. National governments bear responsibility for civilian protection, and the United States is working to enhance their capacity to fulfill this responsibility. The United States also strongly supports the United Nations peacekeeping missions in the D.R.C. and South Sudan. We continue to work with the United Nations to help augment its efforts in the LRA-affected region. At the same time, we are working with other partners on projects to help reduce the vulnerability of LRA-affected communities and increase their capacity to make decisions related to their own safety. To promote the protection of civilians, the Department of State and USAID are funding communication networks, including high-frequency radios and cell phone towers, to enhance community-based protection in the C.A.R. and the D.R.C. Under a USAID-funded public private partnership with Vodacom Congo, cell phone towers are now operational in LRA-affected areas northeastern D.R.C. The USAID-funded Secure, Empowered, Connected Communities Program in LRA-affected areas of the C.A.R. is getting underway with community mapping, media training and community radio activities.
Enhancing Regional Efforts to Apprehend LRA Top Commanders: On November 14, 2011, the United Nations Security Council commended ongoing efforts by national militaries in the region to address the threat posed by the LRA, and welcomed international efforts to enhance their capacity in this respect. The Council noted the efforts of the United States, which, since 2008, has provided critical logistical support, equipment and training to enhance counter-LRA operations by regional militaries. In October 2011, the United States also deployed a small number of U.S. military forces to serve as advisors to the national military forces working as part of the AU-RTF to pursue senior LRA commanders and to protect civilians. The U.S. military advisors are working to facilitate coordination, information sharing, and tactical coordination amongst regional forces; enhance the capacity of the regional militaries to fuse intelligence with effective operational planning; promote defections from LRA ranks, and support efforts to improve civil-military relations through increased coordination and communication with local populations and NGOs. The State Department has deployed a field officer to work alongside U.S. military advisors. In addition, to augment ongoing efforts to bring the LRA’s top leaders to justice, the Secretary of State authorized rewards for up to $5 million for information leading to the arrests and/or conviction of top LRA leaders Joseph Kony, Okot Odhiambo, and Dominic Ongwen.
Encouraging and Facilitating LRA Defections: Working with regional forces, local partners and nongovernmental organizations, U.S. military advisors and diplomats have significantly expanded efforts to promote defections from the LRA’s ranks – using leaflet drops, radio broadcasts, aerial loudspeakers, and the establishment of reporting sites where LRA fighters can safely surrender. For example, U.S. military advisors have helped to airdrop more than one million leaflets encouraging defections at seventeen locations across LRA-affected areas of the C.A.R., the D.R.C., and South Sudan. In early December 2013, 19 individuals, including nine Ugandan males, defected from the LRA in the C.A.R. This was the largest LRA defection since 2008 and signals that ongoing efforts to promote defections are working. The United States also continues to support efforts across the affected countries to demobilize and reintegrate former LRA fighters and all those victimized by this conflict back into normal life. In Fiscal Year 2010 through 2013, USAID provided approximately $8.5 million in assistance to UNICEF to support the rehabilitation and reintegration of former abducted youth in C.A.R. and the D.R.C. and other youth affected by LRA atrocities.
Providing Humanitarian Assistance: The United States is the largest bilateral donor of humanitarian assistance to LRA-affected populations in the C.A.R., the D.R.C., and South Sudan. Since 2010, the United States has provided more than $87.2 million to support the food assistance and food security, humanitarian protection, health and livelihoods initiatives, and other relief activities for internally displaced persons, refugees, host community members, and other populations affected by the LRA. The United States also continues to provide development assistance to support the return of displaced people, reconstruction, and recovery in northern Uganda, where the LRA carried out its brutal campaign for nearly two decades until it fled Uganda in 2006. With the LRA’s departure and Ugandan and international recovery and development efforts, northern Uganda has undergone a significant post-conflict reconstruction and recovery in just a few years.