23 May 2002

Sudan: Kony's Bad Dream: Operation Iron Fist

Joseph Kony, of the Lord's Resistance Movement / Army faces a real prospect of being captured or killed in combat with the renewed UPDF offensive. Felix Osike was in Southern Sudan recently and reports on Kony's options

Kony's survival in rebellion for the last 13 years has mainly been because of the support from the Khartoum government. But following the bombing of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on September 11, 2000, the LRA was listed as an international terrorist organisation.

With the cooperation of Sudan, UPDF crossed into Southern Sudan by March 15, 2002 and launched its first offensive on March 27. The mission was to locate and destroy LRA camps at Lubangatek, Lara Bin Rwot, Kempaco and Odek all located along Kit valley near Juba and also to rescue the Ugandan children in LRA captivity.

However Maj. Gen. James Kazini, the army commander says due to the complexity of the operation, where some of the children abducted by Kony over the years are now fully armed, the only option is to launch a full scale attack.

At least 10,000 UPDF soldiers supported by medium and long-range artillery are in action in Sudan.

During phase one of the operation, Kony leading one group, and Vincent Otti leading another, left their camps in a last minute move to divert the UPDF forces away from attacking them.

The UPDF overrun five empty camps and captured a lot of equipment which have since been handed back to the Sudanese authorities.

In phase two of the operation, the LRA attempted to change tactics. They adopted a guerilla warfare mode of fighting by trying to block UPDF supply lines on the western axis through Nimule and Eastern entry point of Ngomoromo-Palotaka-Magwi.

When this was defeated they attempted to go back to their former camps to retrieve some of the hidden arms. This move was also blocked, forcing Kony and his forces to run eastwards into the Acholi mountains with their families.

Phase three has moved the theatre of UPDF operation to deep inside the Acholi mountains and Imatong hills about 40 miles to the Uganda border. Kony's choice of this location was meant to out-range the UPDF artillery by using the terrain as his defence.

"We are fully prepared for this option. Our forces are not new to mountain warfare," says Col. Francis Okello, deputy operations commander. Two of Kony's defensive positions on the mountain ranges were attacked and overrun, forcing his forces to flee further inside. This was the first major encounter with LRA since the operation began in March.

Following the attack on LRA positions in Katire, Acholi mountains, the LRA revenged on the local population accusing them of backing UPDF. Over 500 Sudanese civilians have been massacred by the LRA in this area forcing the Sudanese government to also declare war on Kony.

According to intelligence reports, Kony was very angry with Sudan for cutting off supplies. Kony is said to have strongly protested the move saying that Sudan had abandoned him after many years of fighting their war against the SPLA. LRA has now vowed to fight the SPAF, UPDF and SPLA although the latter is not allowed by protocol, to participate in the operations.

Amid the pressure, Kony is said to have asked what he called the 'invading forces' to leave his territory! There are also some reports that the SPLA are not happy with Uganda for cooperating with the Sudanese government.

They see it as a ploy by the Sudan government to identify their targets and hit them when the UPDF pulls out its troops. Talk of intricacy.

Intelligence information shows that Kony knew of the impending operations against him. He had several options. He could stay and fight UPDF to a bitter end in his camps, relocate or flee to areas north of Juba-Torit parallel, abandon his camps and fight a guerilla battle in the Savannah areas bounded by Juba-Magwe-Pulataka-Ngomoromo line, or flee and attempt to seek sanctuary in the Acholi mountains and perhaps try a desperate move and cross back to Uganda through Agoro.

In Kit valley Kony had five fighting units. Control Alter Brigade commanded by himself (1000 fighters), Sinia (700), Gilva (600), Stocree (780) and Trinkle (850) led by Okello Matata, Otti Vincent and Tabuley.

The sophistication of the weaponry in the hands of the LRA cannot be underestimated given the type of arms they had at the beginning of the operation. According to UPDF field officers, LRA armaments included, anti-tank recoilless rifles, TNT blocks, anti-tank missiles, some outdated Surface to Air Missiles (SAM), anti-aircraft missiles, automatic rocket launchers, anti-personnel and anti tank land mines and large quantities of ammunition of different types.

Kazini concedes that looking for Kony in the mountains has not been rosy although he has vowed to resign by December 31,2002, if Kony is not captured or killed.

"The only problem we have encountered is a hostile terrain. But it is hostile to both Kony and UPDF," says Wycliffe Mwesigwa, the 401 Brigade commander.

Military analysts say there are now three options open to Kony. He could pass behind SPAF lines and retreat towards Torit, cross back to Uganda via Agoro hills for a direct confrontation with the UPDF, or flee into Kenya through Kidepo Valley, the same route used a decade ago by the defeated Holy Spiritual Movement of Alice Lakwena, now exiled in Kenya.

UPDF successes include the attack and destruction of LRA base and camps in Kit valley areas,s forcing them to flee to hostile terrain. There is also a possibility that Kony and his forces may run out of food and ammunition.

But in separate attacks in March, the Ugandan and Sudanese forces suffered some casualties at the hands of the LRA. One senior UPDF officer Capt. Khelil Magara was killed when LRA raided a SPAF detachment. 65 Sudanese soldiers were killed by LRA.

Capt. Tinka, another UPDF officer, is still missing. In April 10 UPDF soldiers died as a result of accidental mortar shell which exploded amongst them at Palotaka. Fifteen others sustained injuries. Over fifty LRA rebels have so far been killed in the operation.

But other significant factors could affect the operation. One is the extent of cooperation and duration of time the Sudanese authorities are willing to offer the UPDF. UPDF has been given another 45 days to conduct the operation.

African Rights, a British-based advocacy group, says Khartoum has to act cautiously in order not to incense its local constituency, some of which is radically opposed to the presence of foreign troops in their country.

"The longer this operation takes, the greater the domestic political risk for Khartoum. Mindful of public opinion, the Khartoum government has been careful to allow a few weeks at a time for the operation, leaving open its political options," the report states.

By moving into Sudan, UPDF may end the Kony menace once and for all.

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