Group tracking LRA sees defections weakening rebel force
A Marine goes over threat detection methods with a group of Ugandan soldiers in this Feb. 2012 photo. A small team of Marines were sent to Uganda to train Ugandan forces for the fight against al-Shabaab in Somalia and the hunt for Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army.
STUTTGART, Germany — There have been a series of defections from the Lord’s Resistance Army since U.S. military advisers were dispatched to provide support to African troops fighting the rebel group, according to a report released Monday by the LRA Crisis Tracker project.
“In the last nine months, two senior LRA commanders have been captured or killed, and at least 19 Ugandan fighters have left the LRA,” said Adam Finck, a program manager at Invisible Children, one of two advocacy groups behind the LRA Crisis Tracker initiative. “Only 150-250 fighters are thought to remain in the LRA, so we are hopeful that this progress will help prevent future attacks on civilians.”
Since the LRA can’t recruit from Uganda, where it no longer has an operational presence, a loss of roughly 20 male combatants represents “a significant loss to the LRA’s core fighting force and command structure,” the report stated.
In all, there were 31 Ugandan LRA defectors in 2012, the report said.
In 2011, President Barack Obama sent about 100 combat troops to central Africa to provide training, intelligence and logistical support to African forces engaged in the fight against the LRA, a rebel group that has caused unrest in the region for two decades.
The U.S. troops, comprised mainly of special operations forces, are stationed at remote outposts.
The White House is expected to decide next month whether to extend the deployment of the advisers, according to the LRA Crisis Tracker project, which is co-managed by the San Diego-based Invisible Children and The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative in Washington.
While violence persists, there have been some recent successes in Uganda-led counter-LRA operations, including the capture of Maj. Gen. Caesar Achellam in May 2012 and the killing of Vincent Binany in January 2013, the LRA report said.
Launched in 2011, LRACrisisTracker.com is intended to serve as an early-warning system on the movements of the LRA, which roves across parts of the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.
In 2012, the LRA abducted 517 people and killed 51 others, according to the LRA Crisis Tracker. The report also documented 275 attacks perpetrated against civilians, 69 percent of which occurred in the first half of the year. Similar trends suggest civilians face increased risk of attack in the early part of 2013.
“Civilians in CAR and Congo have suffered through a spike in LRA attacks in the first several months of each of the past three years,” said Paul Ronan, Director of Policy at The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative, in a statement. “UN peacekeepers in Congo and troops authorized by the African Union in CAR must do more to protect civilians in the coming months to avoid a repeat of the past.”
“LRA groups operating outside the U.S. military and Ugandan area of influence in CAR are wreaking havoc on civilians,” Ronan added. “They are attacking communities with impunity, knowing that there are no protection forces able to stop them.”
Meanwhile, efforts to encourage LRA fighters to defect from the ranks are making inroads, according to advocacy groups. Programs, run by both U.S. military advisers and Invisible Children, have in recent months been focused on disseminating messages via leaflet drops, radio broadcasts, and helicopter-mounted speakers flown over LRA area of operations, according to the LRA Crisis Tracker report.
“Of 25 Ugandan adult returnees in 2012 (20 men and 5 women), 21 saw or heard one or more forms of defection messaging either in the form of leaflets, FM or shortwave radio broadcasts, or helicopter-mounted speakers,” the report stated.
In addition, 11 Ugandans defected to designated safe reporting sites in the Central African Republic in 2012. Twelve non-Ugandans also deserted from the LRA, according to the report.