Army Cools to Calls for Fresh LRA Operation

Military says they have been able to contain the rebels, but would go back into Congo if they again pose a threat.

Army Cools to Calls for Fresh LRA Operation

Military says they have been able to contain the rebels, but would go back into Congo if they again pose a threat.

Calls are growing for a renewed offensive against Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, strongholds in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, two months after Kampala ended an operation against the Ugandan rebels.

The urgings are coming from within the United States Congress and various human rights groups, but the Ugandan military has no plans for another operation, for now.

On May 19, five US congressmen submitted legislation setting out a coordinated American policy in the central Africa region, including support for military action against the LRA and for Uganda to rebuild the war-torn north.

Since the US military helped plan and fund the December 2008 action by Uganda against the LRA, “…we have a responsibility to help see this rebel war to its end”, said the bill’s main sponsor, Senator Russ Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin.

“In order to do that, I strongly believe we need a regional strategy to guide US support—which includes political economic, intelligence and military support—for a multilateral effort to protect civilians and permanently end the threat posed by the LRA.”

Similarly, a May 12 report by the human rights group Enough, titled Finishing the Fight Against the LRA, called for a second Ugandan-led operation against the LRA.

“A revitalized and revamped military operation focused on apprehending the senior LRA leadership while simultaneously protecting civilians is the best way to defeat the insurgency and allow displaced civilians to return to their homes,” read the report.

“The most likely practical option for success is more robust Western support for a second Ugandan-led operation.”

The Enough report warned that it is an “even greater tragedy for civilians if key states in the region and the international community [lose] their collective will to end the threat of the LRA once and for all”.

Enough researcher Julia Spiegel said few options remain other than renewed military action against the LRA.

“Peace talks ran aground in 2008. Doing nothing allowed the LRA to establish large base camps in Congo, abduct throughout Central Africa, and train new fighters,” Spiegel told IWPR.

“The current Congolese and UN forces in the region are incapable of handling the job themselves, so we argue that a [Ugandan army-led operation] – with strong US and international backing and operational support – has the best chance of ending the LRA threat once and for all.”

Spiegel said another operation would hopefully learn from past mistakes.

“It makes no sense to launch a second operation that is exactly the same as the first. But if the mistakes from the last round are learned, and new plans are made, and they are backed with the resources necessary to execute them [the chances of success are high].”

The December 14 strike against Kony’s camps in remote northeastern DRC involved forces from Uganda, Congo and South Sudan – but failed to capture or contain the LRA.

Rather, the LRA forces scattered and went on a killing rampage that left nearly 1,000 civilians in the region dead and also displaced an estimate 50,000 others.

The situation has quieted, but sporadic attacks by rebels have been reported.

Barney Afako, a Ugandan lawyer who participated in the peace talks with the LRA from 2006 to 2008, criticised the Enough report.

“Insurgencies are notoriously difficult to defeat,” he said. “That is the lesson of the last 24 years in northern Uganda. The trouble with Enough's approach is that it does not seem to concede the complexity of the situation.”

Further US military support, which seems to be the cornerstone of the proposals, “must be realistic and enduring if it is to yield any fruit”, said Afako. “Afghanistan and Iraq show that. But does the US want to commit what it will actually take?”

Afako said the report fails to recognise the difficulties of military action against the LRA where it is currently situated.

“With the LRA scattered over an area many, many times the size of northern Uganda and much less accessible, the challenges are huge,” he said. “It will not be enough to send in more and more Ugandan troops.”

Part of Uganda’s efforts to defeat Kony within its borders required forcing northern Ugandans into camps, a move that cannot be done in the other countries without local and international support, he said.

Afako said the report did not explore non-military options.

“Peaceful options cannot be swept off the table like irritating crumbs,” he said. “If we want to minimise the loss of life, including young unwilling combatant's lives, we have to keep open the exit lane of peace.”

The Ugandan military, meanwhile, said it does not plan any new actions, but did not rule them out.

Ugandan army spokesperson Major Felix Kulaigye said the Congolese army has so far contained the LRA in the wake of the Ugandan withdrawal.

“I believe the situation on the ground is still satisfactory and we don’t fear it will escalate,” said Kulaigye. “We maintain only our intelligence teams there and they are doing good work.”

Ugandan troops that remain with the Congolese army act as advisors who are familiar with LRA tactics, he said.

If the situation in the DRC deteriorated, he cautioned, the army could be sent back.

The former spokesman for the LRA, Obony Olweny, also criticised the Enough report. “For how long will the military solution be prosecuted for it to succeed?” he said.

“Since the first strike against the LRA failed, it is contradictory that … Enough goes on to call for US support to Uganda for a second round of Garamba operations. What guarantee is there this time round that it will succeed”

“The only sensible way forward is for a resumption of the peace process. The conflict cannot be resolved militarily.”

Parlimentary opposition leader Morris Ogenga Latigo, who represents a district in northern Uganda, praised the proposed US law for urging that more be done to rebuild northern Uganda.

“The bill shows that the US now understands the conflict and that’s a good response,” Latigo told IWPR. “The effort is welcome for us from the north.”

But, he noted, the bill “shows our government’s failure in responding to needs of people in northern Uganda. The Uganda government is incapable of

responding in a way that the north deserves”.

Rosbell Kagumire is an IWPR-trained reporter.
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