news analysis advocacy

Support AfricaFocus and independent bookstores!

Make non-profit your first stop for buying books.
See books recommended by AfricaFocus.


Visit the AfricaFocus
Country Pages

Burkina Faso
Cape Verde
Central Afr. Rep.
Congo (Brazzaville)
Congo (Kinshasa)
Côte d'Ivoire
Equatorial Guinea
São Tomé
Sierra Leone
South Africa
South Sudan
Western Sahara

Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!

Format for print or mobile

Africa: KONY 2012, Military Realities

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Mar 14, 2012 (120314)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"Chasing the leaders, which seems to be the strategy preferred by both the Ugandan People's Defence Force and the US military, is a hit or miss approach that will call down more attacks on unprotected civilians as the LRA instrumentalise them to send their twisted message and replace battlefield losses by abducting new fighters. While the Ugandan/US strategy has produced some attrition, it has also generated a bloody response and a massive recruitment campaign that seems to have gone unnoticed." - Philip Lancaster, co-author of Diagnostic Study of the Lord's Resistance Army, and former military assistant to Gen. Romeo Dallaire in Rwanda

The fact is, Lancaster and his co-authors conclude in the June 2011 study for the International Working Group on the LRA, neither military nor non-military approaches have succeeded in "solving" the problem posed by the Lord's Resistance Army. They note that the 50 experts they consulted for their study were seriously divided on approaches,including a long-term "state-building" solution, more assertive military action, and further negotiations.

The commentaries included in this AfricaFocus Bulletin provide no decisive evidence for or against these three approaches, but they do provide relevant background. An article by Philip Lancaster and brief excerpts from the Diagnostic Study he co-authored, may be interpreted as calling for increased military action, but only if it is preceded by a serious study of the military options and their potential pitfalls, which has not been done.

The Diagnostic Study researchers do make clear that community leaders in the affected areas are calling for more attention to renewed negotiations, in contrast to U.S. nongovernmental organizations which seem to have faith in a better-organized "surge" of military action, accompanied by other supplementary non-military measures. The argument for military action, most visibly advocated by Invisible Children, is also argued more carefully and in more detail by allied groups such as Resolve and the Enough Project, as well as supported to some extent by Human Rights Watch.

[Update, April 11

The authors of the Diagnostic Study have just published an article in the Journal of Eastern African Studies with a military assessment of the requirements for successful military action against the LRA, incorporating elements of the assessment that were excluded from the final Diagnostic Study for political reasons. They conclude that "Given that unsuccessful military operations against the rebels have typically resulted in LRA retaliations against civilians, the paper urges caution in pursuing such options and awareness of likely civilian consequences. First, do no harm."

An abstract of the study is available at The full paper is available to people at institutions subscribing to the journal, or by payment.

Also included in this Bulletin is a brief summary of a longer report by Resolve, one of the U.S. NGOs which is an ally of Invisible Children. While the report presents the case with far greater nuance than does Invisible Children, including non-military as well as military components, in my opinion it still does not explain why they discount the voices of community leaders calling for greater emphasis on peace negotiations and why they have faith that the U.S. and Ugandan troops could do better with a "surge" this time. Certainly neither the record in the region nor that of U.S. troops in other parts of the world give good grounds for such faith.

Finally, a late February report from the UN's IRIN Humanitarian News and Analysis reports on several contrasting views on these issues.

Another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today, and available on the web at, contains a transcript of a video by Rosebell Kagumire, and short analytical articles by Mahmood Mamdani and Alex de Waal. An additional updated list of recommended sources is available on-line at (newly updated April 11, 2012)

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

How the US-Ugandan strategy of chasing the LRA backfires

While the Ugandan and US strategy of chasing the brutal Lord's Resistance Army leader, Joseph Kony, has produced some attrition, it has also generated a massive recruitment campaign by the LRA.

By Philip Lancaster, Guest blogger / August 23, 2011

Philip Lancaster, a guest blogger on Jason Stearns' blog Congo Siasa, was Gen. Romeo Dallaire's Military Assistant in Rwanda before the genocide in 1994 and served as the head of the UN mission in Congo's Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration division.

In addition to a long running insurgency that savaged northern Uganda for over 20 years, the murder and mayhem caused by the LRA across south eastern Central African Republic (CAR), South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) over the past few years was serious enough to bring both houses of the American Congress to set aside partisan politics long enough to agree on legislation.

At about the same time, in August 2010, an international working group comprised of the US, UK, and EU governments with participation from the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping and the World Bank, alarmed at the reports of LRA atrocities, assembled around consensus on the need for effective coordination across all the agencies and governments involved.

The UN Security Council weighed in again in July 2011 with a second resolution calling for the LRA to disarm and praising the actions taken so far by governments, international agencies and NGOs to address the harms inflicted by the LRA. The Security Council particularly praised the efforts of the AU to organize a coordinated military and diplomatic response.

But what, exactly, has been accomplished?

More press releases, more declarations of intent to capture or kill Joseph Kony, more empty assurances of imminent victory and yet another round of search and destroy operations led by the Ugandan Army. None of this is new and all of it has failed in the past.

The Azande people, an historically marginalized ethnic group of hunters, herders, and farmers living in the border regions of the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan have been targeted for special attention by the LRA, are caught in the yawning gap between rhetoric and action. I am reminded of the feeling of abandonment felt by the few who stayed on the ill-fated UN Peacekeeping Mission in Rwanda as the outside world decided that their reports of genocide must somehow be exaggerated. Have we all become so cynical that we will let a whole people suffer like this - again?

While the challenges of taking effective action in such a complex environment are indeed daunting, it is the shallow understanding of the military dimensions of the problem that is so disappointing. We have ample evidence from reports of the past 20 years that the LRA are a force to be reckoned with. Ruthless as they are, their tactics are well adapted to the terrain and the nature of the forces they face. And yet the proposed military responses under the new AU offers no new troops, no new thinking and no sign of serious military technical analysis. A cynic might be led to think that no one really wants to look at the problem carefully out of fear of being called to do more than they might want to.

The LRA make deliberate use of terror to tie up military forces and survive by hit and run attacks that are wellplanned and flawlessly executed. The military response from UN Peacekeeping and national forces has been totally inadequate insofar as they focus on providing limited static defense of a small number of civilian settlements. The LRA just find the ones that aren't protected. Since none of the armies deployed have a policy of pursuit after attack, the LRA consistently escape with loot and abducted recruits.

Chasing the leaders, which seems to be the strategy preferred by both the Ugandan People's Defence Force and the US military, is a hit or miss approach that will call down more attacks on unprotected civilians as the LRA instrumentalise them to send their twisted message and replace battlefield losses by abducting new fighters. While the Ugandan/US strategy has produced some attrition, it has also generated a bloody response and a massive recruitment campaign that seems to have gone unnoticed.

During interviews conducted as part of some recent research on this subject, UPDF officers presented slides showing the numbers of LRA killed or captured but nothing about the numbers recruited. Subsequent questions revealed that the UPDF were not really interested in recruitment. One suspects a repetition of the 'victory by body count' strategy that failed so spectacularly in Vietnam.

It is clear that there will be huge difficulties in finding the right kinds and numbers of troops that would probably be needed to be effective against the LRA. However, it is also clear that repeating failing strategies, no matter whether through the AU or some other agency, will not work - unless exceedingly lucky and Kony and his key leaders are all killed at once.

As a matter of simple logic, and as a first step, the question of who needs to act should be informed by an analysis of what kinds of action are likely to succeed. This could be achieved by competent technical research conducted by one of the military forces involved and it would cost very little when compared with the cost of poorly aimed military strikes. Yet, it doesn't seem to have been done. Even the wealth of intelligence available from the UPDF has not been shared with the other armies now engaged and so each of them, including the UN Peacekeeping forces, are learning about the LRA the hard way. And learning very slowly.

Nor does anyone appear to have conducted a formal command estimate of the LRA problem. Normally, no serious army would take on any mission without analysis and yet the forces engaged against the LRA seem to be operating on the premise that it's easier to fight than to think. Surely this must have something to do with political interference with what should be a normal military staffing action. Isn't it time they are allowed to devote some thought to the battle plan before more civilians pay the price for the inevitable next round of blunders?

As frustrating as the problem of the LRA is, it is also a fascinating mirror reflecting political dynamics in the West. The nub of the political problem could be understood as a manifestation of the hypocrisy of our times. It is as simple as the old children's story about a village of mice deciding that the solution to their cat problem is to make it wear a bell. The problem seems solved until one of them asks who is going be the brave soul to hang a bell on the cat. In the LRA case each affected state has other priorities and no third party state is willing to commit political or military resources to give either the UN or the AU a real hope of success.

But everyone involved is too polite to point out that neither organization has the capacity it needs and won't unless someone steps up to take the responsibility to ensure that it does.

"Who shall bell the cat?" But, it would seem, in this case, we haven't even started looking for a bell.

International Working Group on the LRA

Diagnostic Study of the Lord's Resistance Army

June 2011

Philip Lancaster, Guillaume Lacaille, Ledio Cakaj

[Brief excerpts only This 59-page study is an essential resource for anyone wanting to understand the policy options available. But it is difficult to summarize and reaches no clear conclusions apart from the fact that both military and non-military approaches taken to date have not worked and in fact are likely to continue to not work, in terms of a definitive end to the insecurity created by the Lord's Resistance Army. Particularly striking is their conclusion that no one, including none of the armed forces involved, has prepared a serious military estimate of what would be required.

Its relevance for the U.S. debate is that it makes clear that the primary reliance on military approaches, as advocated by the activist U.S. NGOs involved, is only one of three approaches debated among both local and international experts.]

There is little political consensus on what could or should be done about the LRA. This Study identifies three distinct points of view, thereafter referred to as "school of thoughts". Adherents of the first school of thought share the belief that putting the LRA on the agenda of the international community as a critical political issue is counterproductive. Indeed, they see the LRA first-andforemost as a symptom of the general lack of local capacity to enforce state authority in remote areas of fragile states. Called the state building school, the main argument supporting its view is that the LRA is a criminal organization that would continue to exist in some form until the LRA-affected countries' security institutions are improved through long-term international technical assistance. The second school of thought, categorized according to its support for a decisive military solution, includes representatives from a set of agencies and interests who see no other solution to the LRA challenge except for the application of military force, including the targeting of the group's leadership. Finally, there are those who think that the best hope for an end to the violence is through the recourse to negotiations with members of the LRA as part of a comprehensive strategy. The depth of disagreement is both divisive and unhelpful but is unlikely to be resolved without much further discussion grounded on a more exhaustive analysis than is currently available.


The need to understand better the causes and correlations linking behaviors of both the LRA and the set of military forces arrayed against them is critical to developing coherent policy. At the moment, calls for strong action against the LRA from agencies such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Enough Project compete with calls for negotiation from the network of European NGOs for advocacy on Central Africa (EurAc) and regional religious and cultural leaders. Groups from both sides of this divide urge the need for a coherent and coordinated strategy yet each grounds its arguments on different perspectives that reflect fundamental differences in belief about both the evidence available and its interpretation. Given the number of lives already lost in the midst of what appears to be a policy morass, it is urgent that a serious attempt be made to better understand all the relevant factors affecting the full range of policy alternatives, including the possibility of negotiation, and the challenges and limitations associated with all other approaches.


This study is grounded on the belief that none of the current strategies in use by the forces and agencies in the region are adequate to the challenge presented by the LRA and that a rigorous study of the history of the LRA, the operational context, the potential for a negotiated solution, the relative capacities of the forces available and the political issues affecting the availability of resources as well as the likelihood of their use is the first step to generating more creative and effective solutions. It is the view of the study team that humanitarian work can only mitigate a situation that requires, ultimately, a comprehensive resolution, including political/ security/ and development aspects, if basic conditions of human dignity are to be restored to the affected region.


The LRA is now widely considered to have lost its political relevance in Uganda and to have been reduced to a "survival mode" of operations. However, its survival has been at the cost of at least 2,000 dead, 2,800 or more abducted and over 350,000 displaced. It succeeded in generating this much harm during the period since the start of OLT, in other words, while on the run from a US-supported military operation by up to 4,500 UPDF soldiers who were supposedly operating in loose collaboration with UN peacekeeping mission (MONUSCO), Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC), Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and Armed Forces of Central Africa (FACA). It should be remembered that victory has too often been declared in Northern Uganda only to have the LRA reappear.


Local community leaders committed to keeping the door open for dialogue with the LRA Since the end of 2008, the prominent public figures who led the negotiations with Kony have disengaged from the issue of the LRA. Several European activists and academics who witnessed the Juba process indicate that-if a possibility would arise-resorting to less-known individuals to conduct discreet mediations would be more effective in re-establishing contact with Kony than using high-profile personalities. The same sources report that the priority given to forced disarmament since OLT also temporarily marginalized local community leaders involved in the Juba talks.

Indeed, a coalition of local leaders from the four LRAaffected countries still intends to play a larger role. Almost three years into the military operations, community leaders denounce the lack of commitment from their respective governments, militaries and from the international community to make the protection of the population a priority.43 Some religious authorities and traditional chiefs are skeptical of the prospects of eventually neutralizing the LRA though military means, and have begun looking into ways to reengage the LRA at an individual level. The core message for rebel fighters and abductees is that it is still possible to return to their community of origin. Incentives and sensitization are directed to LRA members as well as to the receiving communities.

Reflecting demands articulated by these community leaders, a coalition of NGOs, EurAc, has reintroduced the concept of dialogue with the LRA to European audiences. Since October 2009, IKV/Pax Christi coordinates a regional network involving religious authorities from all the LRA-affected countries. Several national initiatives are also underway: one with the Justice and Peace commission in Yambio supported by Cordaid, one with religious leaders in Dungu supported by IKV/Pax Christi, and one with the Acholi Religious Leaders' Peace Initiative (ARLPI) in Northern Uganda supported by Conciliation Resources. ...

Peace Can Be

New Report Argues Deployment of Advisors Creates Unprecedented Opportunity to End LRA Atrocities


For this statement, and a link to the full report, see

February 21, 2012 (Washington, DC) - Despite the political pressures of an election year, the United States government must continue to prioritize efforts to help combat the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and actively work with central African governments to arrest LRA leader Joseph Kony and put an end once and for all to the group's atrocities in the region, argues a report issued today by Washington-based human rights organization Resolve.

"2012 is a make or break year for President Obama's efforts to see an end to LRA violence," says Resolve Executive Director Michael Poffenberger. "The LRA has relentlessly attacked civilians for over two decades. The President's decision to deploy U.S. military advisors to the region creates a limited window of opportunity to finally see these atrocities come to an end."

The Obama Administration released the first-ever White House strategy to address the LRA in 2010 and built on that effort by deploying 100 advisers to the region late last year, helping the Ugandan and other regional militaries protect civilians and apprehend senior LRA commanders.

LRA forces currently comprised of 200-300 fighters and commanders, down from as many as 10,000 in the 1990's, have been skillful in adapting and evading efforts to defeat them. After a military surge led by the Ugandan government reduced the group's core capacity in 2009, regional efforts have faltered, allowing a small number of LRA fighters to have an outsize impact on the civilian population. 465,000 people have been displaced as a result of the group's attacks in an area the size of France which includes parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, and the newly-formed Republic of South Sudan.

"Joseph Kony and senior LRA commanders remain a very real threat to peace and stability in central Africa, and have proven they can survive half-hearted efforts aimed at defeating them," Ronan added. "While it's a huge step forward, President Obama's LRA strategy runs the risk of becoming another well-intentioned but ultimately unsuccessful effort unless additional steps are taken immediately."

In "Peace Can Be: President Obama's Chance to Help End LRA Atrocities in 2012," Resolve argues that only progress in reducing the LRA's threat to civilians should drive decisions made about the deployment of U.S. forces and other policy measures. "This kind of bold leadership from the White House may be threatened by political attacks made in an election year. But persistence could provide a real victory for the Administration's commitment to stop and prevent mass atrocities," added Poffenberger.

The report, based on three months of research conducted in late 2011 in remote areas of central Africa impacted by LRA violence, also argues that the U.S. needs to augment the troop deployment with additional steps, including:

  • High-level diplomacy, in partnership with the African Union, to overcome a breakdown in cooperation among regional governments;
  • Deployment of helicopters to help regional military respond to reports of LRA attacks and movements; and
  • Investments in civilian infrastructure, including early warning systems, and programs focused on securing peaceful defections from LRA ranks to complement military investments.

Uganda: Questions Over Progress Against the LRA

24 February 2012

IRIN Humanitarian News and Analysis

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

Johannesburg - The US believes its military intervention in central Africa in pursuit of Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) is having the desired effect, reducing attacks and improving civilian protection - although analysts have reservations.

In 2011, the US deployed about 100 troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR), South Sudan and Uganda to assist the region's military forces in killing or capturing Kony and his senior command, following President Barack Obama Administration's announcement in November 2010 to deal decisively with the armed group.

Karl Wycoff, the US deputy assistant secretary for African affairs, in a telephone briefing on 22 February, told IRIN: "Over recent months the military of Uganda, CAR, DRC and South Sudan have continued to carry out operations against the LRA. We are supporting them in these efforts. We are providing logistical support to help the Ugandan military sustain its forward operations against the LRA. We are funding, for example, some airlift, fuel and other transport support for their troops. In the DRC we trained and equipped a Congolese battalion that is now operating in LRA-affected areas of the DRC and we are also working with the UN peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO [UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC]."

About US$40 million has been provided by the US so far in support of the Ugandan military effort.

MONUSCO and Congolese forces were involved in recent operations to prevent any repeats of the LRA's 2008 and 2009 Christmas massacres, he said, and the US was also providing support to CAR and South Sudan military forces.

"With our support, these four military forces continue to make progress in reducing the LRA numbers and keeping them from regrouping. We believe it is critical the militaries in the region continue to work together to keep the pressure on the LRA and protect their own citizens. As we have seen in the past, the LRA will exploit any reduction in military or diplomatic pressure to regroup and rebuild their forces," Wycloff said.

Still dancing to Kony's tune

He cited UN statistics saying that in 2011 there were 278 attacks attributed to the LRA and more than 300 abductions, but in the second half of the year, which coincided with the deployment of US troops, incidents "appear" to have decreased - although about 465,000 people in the region were displaced or living as refugees in 2011 because of LRA activities.

Rear Admiral Brian Losey, commander of Special Operations Command Africa, believed the drop in attacks was a result of the US and local military operations and the "numbers of [LRA] fighters have been reduced to 200 or so... We do not have a specific timeline with this mission, nor is it openended."

The important thing now is what Kony is actually doing and as far as anyone can tell, he is still in control and calling the tune the rest of us dance to

However, Phil Lancaster, one of the authors of the 2011 International Working Group on the LRA report, Diagnostic Study of the Lord's Resistance Army and former head of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration division of the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC), predecessor to MONUSCO, told IRIN, "Estimates of core numbers have bounced between 250 and 150 for the past 18 months.

"He [Wycoff] doesn't know any more than anyone else what is going on inside the LRA... The important thing now is what Kony is actually doing and as far as anyone can tell, he is still in control and calling the tune the rest of us dance to."

The LRA, which relies on forced recruitment, and more often than not the use of child soldiers, to bolster its ranks, has largely operated with a core strength of about 250 fighters from its inception in the 1980s, say analysts.

A 22 February briefing note by the Small Arms Survey (SAS), Lord's Resistance Army Update said although in 2012 there had been no reported attacks in South Sudan or CAR since 18 January, "raids in northeastern DRC have increased this year".

"At least 12 attacks were reported in the first two weeks of February, all in or near areas where LRA groups have attacked during the last three years. Ngilima, Bangadi, Dungu and areas around Faradje have been consistently targeted by LRA combatants, indicating a return to old bases, particularly in Garamba National Park," the update said.

Lack of regional cooperation

The SAS update also questioned the level of cooperation between regional forces and the DRC, considering President Joseph Kabila's government antipathy towards Ugandan troops on its soil. Of the four contributing military forces, Ugandans are viewed as the most professional.

"Ugandan troops are not officially allowed to enter the DRC, even though the Congolese army units located in areas with an LRA presence are notoriously incapable of dealing with the rebels... This refusal to allow Ugandan troops, and by association US advisers, to enter the DRC has impeded the Americans' drive to remove top LRA commanders from the battlefield," the SAS update said.

Resolve, a US-based advocacy NGO, said in a February 2012 report, Peace Can Be. President Obama's chance to help end LRA atrocities in 2012, questioned Uganda's commitment to continued operations against the LRA, as its border regions were no longer threatened by the armed group and since 2009 it has withdrawn more than half its soldiers dedicated to the pursuit of Kony and his senior commanders.

Uganda's military is also heavily committed to the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which in recent days has seen a renewed emphasis by the international community to resolving the conflict in the country.

Measuring success against the LRA in terms of reduced attacks was also questioned.

"In the second half of 2011, the LRA dramatically reduced its attacks, particularly those involving killings of civilians. Regional military forces interpret these trends as a sign that the rebel group's capacity has been severely decimated. However, the LRA's proven ability to protect its core commanders and to regenerate itself if given the opportunity should inspire caution.

"LRA commanders may be intentionally reducing violence against civilians in the hopes that renewed US and regional initiatives lose momentum. If current initiatives fail to break apart the LRA's command structure, the group will be poised to survive indefinitely and eventually replenish its strength in the tri-border region," the report said.

Resolve said the US commitment was also threatened by the 2012 presidential campaign as "the Obama Administration may encounter domestic pressure to withdraw the US military advisers before they have achieved their objectives."

Among Resolve's recommendations to end the "predations" of the LRA, was "convincing" Uganda to devote more troops to the fight, increasing "intelligence and aerial mobility support to the Ugandans", and "especially to ensure that Congo [DRC] allows the Ugandan military conditional access to Congolese territory affected by the LRA".

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at Please write to this address to subscribe or unsubscribe to the bulletin, or to suggest material for inclusion. For more information about reposted material, please contact directly the original source mentioned. For a full archive and other resources, see

Read more on |Africa Peace & Security|

URL for this file: