Photo of Joseph Kony and leadership of the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, from a photo essay by Erin Baines taken in 2006. Kony is seated, front row, the second face from the right; lower left inset of some young LRA “soldiers”.
The Lord’s Resistance Army has plagued Uganda for 20 years. It is most notable for kidnapping children and turning them into LRA soldiers and slaves, and for its brutality towards civilians. It created a phenomenon in Northern Uganda called night commuters, children walking long distances to shelter in town overnight so they would not be kidnapped by the LRA.
AFRICOM, demonstrating its goal to “enhance the ability of each one of our African partners to provide for their own security”, helped plan and pay for a thoroughly botched attempt by the Ugandan Army to crush the LRA, Operation Lightning Thunder. According to the New York Times the LRA:
… had been hiding out in a Congolese national park, rebuffing efforts to sign a peace treaty. But the rebel leaders escaped, breaking their fighters into small groups that continue to ransack town after town in northeastern Congo, hacking, burning, shooting and clubbing to death anyone in their way. [map here]
The United States has been training Ugandan troops in counterterrorism for several years, but its role in the operation has not been widely known. It is the first time the United States has helped plan such a specific military offensive with Uganda, according to senior American military officials. They described a team of 17 advisers and analysts from the Pentagon’s new Africa Command working closely with Ugandan officers on the mission, providing satellite phones, intelligence and $1 million in fuel.
The operation made no effort to warn or protect the civilan population although reprisals and civilian massacres are standard operating procedure for the LRA.
The LRA got word the attack was coming and fled, leaving empty campsites.
In an indescribably savage manner, the rebels then attacked several homesteads, axing, cutting, slitting throats and crushing skulls with wooden bats and axes. …
According to the president of the civil society of Dungu, Felicien Balani: “The LRA entered around midnight. They surprised the faithful of the church who were in a prayer vigil. They burned them in the church,” said Balani. …
“In Doruma, it was really awful. They had killed at least 300 people. We were in a village where there are only six survivors, all the others were killed,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, who coordinates the investigations on behalf of Human Rights Watch. …
After the massacre, the rebels “ate the Christmas feast the villagers had prepared, and then slept among the dead bodies before continuing on their trail of destruction and death” through another 12 villages.
In September 2007 Jendayi Frazer, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs said:
So we will not sit still and just let them live in Garamba Park and cultivate land and kill animals. … the US government is worried that a fresh regional war involving Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo could flare up …
According to Dr Frazer, the US government is ready to back co-ordinated military operations by the three countries to fend off rebel forces fighting any government while using a neighbouring country as a military base.
Dr Frazer also vowed that her government would not shy away from employing military means to end the activities of the “negative forces” if efforts to end conflicts through dialogue are not successful – yet another indicator of the new approach the US is taking on conflicts in the region.
Instead of providing stability or security the US and Uganda have succeeded in expanding the war against civilians in the DRC. That area of the DRC had been relatively peaceful before Operation Lightning Thunder. Now many thousands more are suffering. And the slaughter of civilians has not ended. The LRA continues its path of slaughter and devastation through villages in the Congo. Uganda appears to consider the operation a success:
“The operation has been a success in that it has left Joseph Kony naked,” State Minister for Defence Ruth Nankabirwa told IRIN.
“Because of the surprise nature of the attack, he fled from his camp empty-handed. He left behind everything, including food, equipment and other gadgets, so this has reduced his capacity,” she added.
AFRICOM along with its African military partner, Uganda, launched Operation Lightning Thunder. The result is their target, the rebel LRA, escaped untouched, around 900 civilians are dead, thousands raped, maimed, injured and their homes destroyed, hundreds of children conscripted, at least 100,000 displaced. Of those 100,000 people who have been displaced, it is estimated at least half of them are inaccessible to help. And any aid would be a magnet to the LRA as they continue to restock by murder and theft.
I wonder how the AFRICOM side of the military partnership sees this. Is the biggest problem the devastation they have helped create? or is it the bad publicity? In recent history African militaries rarely engage in military to military wars. Most wars are against the civilian population. America had many of these military partnerships with Africa during the Cold War, with horrifying results. As long as American foreign policy is military policy in Africa, as long as military to military partnerships are the goal, there will be many more equally horrifying attacks on civilians.