By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 25, 2012 – The United States is part of a successful effort to help counter the Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa, but a four-pillared approach to neutralizing the terrorist group must continue, senior defense, diplomatic and aid officials told senators here yesterday.
That approach, officials explained, includes increasing protection for civilians in LRA-affected areas, apprehending and removing Joseph Kony and other LRA leaders, disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating remaining LRA fighters, and sustaining humanitarian relief to affected areas.
Amanda J. Dory, deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for African affairs, joined Donald Yamamoto, principal deputy assistant Secretary of State for African affairs, and Earl Gast, U.S. Agency for International Development assistant administrator for Africa, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s African Affairs Subcommittee yesterday.
The LRA is composed mostly of kidnapped children forced to conduct Kony’s terrorist tactics over the past 20 years, administration officials have said. Tens of thousands of people have been murdered and as many as 1.8 million have been displaced by the LRA, they said.
President Barack Obama announced April 23 that a U.S. military advise-and-assist mission to Central Africa, begun in October, will remain in place with periodic review.
“Our advisers will continue their efforts to bring this madman to justice and to save lives,” the president said in announcing the mission’s extension.
The 100-member U.S. team of trainers is working to help nations affected by the LRA to “help realize a future where no African child is stolen from their family and no girl is raped and no boy is turned into a child soldier,” Obama said.
Dory described U.S. contributions to the effort, which include training local forces and assisting in intelligence and logistics coordination.
“The militaries of Uganda, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in collaboration with the African Union, continue to pursue the LRA and seek to protect local populations,” she said. “They are leading this effort.”
U.S. advisors in Uganda synchronize and oversee the department’s counter-LRA efforts and coordinate with Ugandan forces, she said, while other U.S. service members work in field locations with forces from Uganda, the Central African Republic and South Sudan.
“U.S. advisors have helped to set up operations fusion centers to enable daily coordination, information sharing and tactical coordination,” she said. “[They] are also integrating local civilian leaders into the work of the partner forces to improve the effectiveness of the civil-military relations.”
Yamamoto said the State Department’s role in the counter-LRA mission largely involves multinational coordination.
“We are coordinating closely with the United Nations peacekeeping missions in the region, especially to promote civilian protection,” he said. “We have encouraged the U.N. to scale up its efforts when possible. We are also working very closely with the African Union to increase its efforts to address the LRA.”
Gast said USAID has worked in Africa since the late 1980s to help communities build security, to reintegrate children formerly abducted by the LRA, and to strengthen economic development in affected areas.
“As the conflict first began to exact severe economic losses, cause mass displacement and weaken governance in Northern Uganda, USAID focused on providing lifesaving assistance to those affected by the conflict,” Gast said. “When the LRA was finally driven out of Northern Uganda, our programs shifted from relief to recovery and then to longer-term development, which is taking place now.”
Dory noted the LRA operates in a remote and rugged zone that includes parts of several countries. U.S. forces have effectively only been in the area since December and January, she said, but they have seen results from their efforts.
“We believe the U.S. military advisors have established a good foundation and made initial progress, especially considering the complexity of the operating environment, the number of partners involved and the remoteness of the operational areas,” Dory said. “We will continue to monitor the situation closely with our interagency partners to ensure our support is having the intended impact.”