U.S., African Forces Mitigate Terror Group’s Impact

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2012 — U.S. spe­cial oper­a­tions forces are help­ing four Cen­tral African nations reduce the size and lethal­i­ty of the Lord’s Resis­tance Army, a group that has ter­ror­ized the region for 25 years, U.S. offi­cials said today.

Navy Rear Adm. Bri­an L. Losey, com­man­der of Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand Africa, said in a con­fer­ence call with reporters that the LRA is down to about 200 core fight­ers. Kar­ly Wycoff, deputy assis­tant sec­re­tary of state for African affairs, also par­tic­i­pat­ed in the call.

While still under the direc­tion of its leader, Joseph Kony, the admi­ral said, the group is kept on the run in the remote, shared bor­der region of South Sudan, Ugan­da, Cen­tral Africa Repub­lic and the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic of Con­go — an area about the size of Cal­i­for­nia.

Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma ordered about 100 spe­cial oper­a­tions forces to deploy to Cen­tral Africa in Octo­ber to train and aug­ment the capa­bil­i­ties of the African mil­i­taries in the region.

The U.S. effort to help the four-nation part­ner­ship counter the LRA is a com­pre­hen­sive, mul­ti-faceted strat­e­gy that has includ­ed train­ing, fund­ing, air­lift, logis­tics, com­mu­ni­ca­tions and intel­li­gence sup­port — specif­i­cal­ly, fus­ing intel­li­gence and sup­port to oper­a­tions, Losey and Wycoff said.

“With our sup­port, these four mil­i­tary forces con­tin­ue to make progress in reduc­ing the LRA’s num­bers and keep them from regroup­ing,” Wycoff said.

U.S. forces also are work­ing close­ly with the State Depart­ment, the Unit­ed Nations, the African Union and non­govern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions to pro­vide human­i­tar­i­an relief in the region, Wycoff said.

“The mil­i­tary is only one part of a broad­er strat­e­gy,” Wycoff said. A large part of the strat­e­gy is to entice LRA mem­bers to defect and safe­ly return home, with the help of gov­ern­ment and aid orga­ni­za­tions, he said, and to pub­li­cize those defec­tions.

“One of the sad real­i­ties of this sit­u­a­tion is that many of the per­pe­tra­tors of these [LRA] atroc­i­ties were vic­tims them­selves, abduct­ed in their child­hood and forced to fight,” he said.

Wycoff likened Kony and his fol­low­ers to a cult that has kid­napped and mur­dered civil­ians for two decades, caus­ing an esti­mat­ed 455,000 peo­ple to be dis­placed or to live as refugees. The LRA is not known to be involved in any mon­ey-mak­ing crim­i­nal enter­prise, he said, but sur­vives off for­ag­ing and pil­lag­ing of vil­lages.

The LRA is impli­cat­ed in 278 attacks and at least 300 abduc­tions last year, which decreased at the end of the year, they said.

“Now they are only a small per­cent­age of their for­mer strength,” Losey said. But the fact that the LRA is oper­at­ing at all, even at reduced strength, is ter­ri­fy­ing to peo­ple in the region, he added.

Losey said the removal of Kony is one of the chief objec­tives in a broad­er mis­sion to enable the four part­ner nations to be ful­ly capa­ble to counter the LRA. Though there is no time­line for the U.S. mis­sion, he added, it also is not open-end­ed.

“We want to make very clear that we are sup­port­ing, and not lead­ing, this effort,” he said.

The fact that the four African nations came togeth­er for the effort to defeat the LRA is an achieve­ment, Losey said.

“This oper­a­tion is at its core what U.S. Africa Com­mand is all about,” he said. “In the long run, it is the Africans who are best suit­ed to address” their region­al secu­ri­ty chal­lenges.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)