23 May 2009

Uganda: Finish Kony Threat, Obama Told

Kampala — A new bill presented in the US senate this week could see Uganda launch a second military offensive against the rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

"This bill rightly targets LRA leader Joseph Kony. Kony's removal is essential to peace in the region," said Ed Royce, the former Africa sub-committee chairman.

Titled the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act 2009, it requires Barack Obama's administration to recommit itself to helping Uganda fight the LRA.

The bill, which is supported by both Democrats and Republicans, also calls upon the Obama administration to support efforts to protect the region's civilians and eliminate the LRA threat.

"The introduction of this bill demonstrates the growing consensus on the need for greater US leadership to disarm top LRA leaders and permanently end this violence," said McGovern, co-chair of the House's Human Rights Commission.

"We must not allow Joseph Kony and the LRA, who have forced children to do unspeakable acts and destroyed the lives of millions, to continue their reign of terror," said senator Feingold when presenting the bill.

He pointed out that because of the complicated nature of operations against the LRA, the US has "a responsibility to help see this rebel war to its end".

Operation Lightning Thunder, a joint military operation launched last December by Uganda, Congo and Southern Sudan, failed to apprehend the LRA's top leadership.

The LRA split up in small groups and retaliated against civilians in Congo, Southern Sudan and the Central African Republic, leaving over 1,000 people dead, hundreds of children abducted and 200,000 people displaced.

Under political pressure at home, Congolese President Joseph Kabila in March terminated the co-operation. Uganda withdrew its troops from eastern Congo, leaving behind only a small force to carry out intelligence operations.

However, two months since Uganda pulled out, some US senators and international NGOs are calling for a second Uganda-led operation against the LRA, sanctioned and supported by the US government.

"Given the US role in Operation Lightning Thunder and its appalling consequences for civilians, the Obama administration now has a responsibility to help finish the job," said a report by Enough, an American thinkthank.

The report, titled 'Finishing the Fight against the LRA', suggests that the US must provide solid planning, intelligence, co-ordination, and logistical support and take greater responsibility for the execution and outcomes of the operation.

The Bush administration, it revealed, played a major role in Operation Lightning Thunder. A total of 17 US soldiers were directly involved in the offensive and the US injected $1m in fuel.

The US, which has been training Ugandan Special Forces, also provided the UPDF with the equipment to listen into the LRA's satellite phones and triangulate their positions.

In addition, US military advisers provided the Ugandan army with satellite imagery and maps to plan out "Lightning Thunder", while the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) reviewed the operational plans and provided advice on its execution.

On the political side, the US pressurised Kabila to agree to the joint offensive and commit its army to co-operate.

However, the report points out that there was poor co-ordination between the three armies. It also noted that the Congolese army was weak and did not have sufficient troops on the ground to protect the population in Doruma, Faradje and Dungu areas.

The report further alleges that AFRICOM did not provide sufficient planning capacity and when the operation encountered significant difficulties, US officials disassociated themselves from it, rather than trying to salvage what they had helped initiate.

The new operation would require stronger and more effective support from the US and the international community, and full commitment from the Congolese government and army to complete the job in a reasonable timeframe, the report suggests.

Real-time information on the whereabouts of Kony and his henchmen will be critical so that the Ugandan army, with strong logistical support, can respond quickly and precisely.

American involvement will also be important to ensure that the Ugandan army does not stray from its mission of dismantling the LRA, the report notes.

Uganda, on the other hand, must give assurance that Congolese fears about ulterior Ugandan motives are unfounded.

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