AFRICOM boss scrutinizes US role in hunt for warlord Kony
STUTTGART, Germany — Africa Command’s five-year search for the elusive warlord Joseph Kony continues, but the mission in the remote jungles of central Africa has become an albatross for the general in charge of the campaign.
An expensive albatross.
“It’s over $100 million every year,” said AFRICOM’s Gen. David Rodriguez, letting out an exasperated laugh at his Stuttgart headquarters.
Rodriguez, who has commanded AFRICOM for three years and is expected to retire in the coming months, said the U.S. needs to take a hard look at where it is committing military assets at a time when resources are stretched.
In Africa, the ranks of the Islamic State are growing in Libya, with up to 5,000 fighters attempting to gain a foothold. At the same time, Boko Haram has emerged in Nigeria as one of the world’s deadliest terrorist organizations, threatening the government of Africa’s largest country. Meanwhile, the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab group remains entrenched in Somalia.
While he stopped short of calling for the outright end to the military’s hunt for Kony, who leads a dwindling number of Lord’s Resistance Army fighters, Rodriguez indicated that the military could be overinvested in the effort, given the lack of threat the LRA poses to the West.
“When I first got here the guys who put the programs together for theater security, they came in and you looked at them like, ‘Man we are spending a lot of money here (on Kony). But that’s not that important to us (strategically).’ ”
Still, the counter-LRA mission continues to absorb assets, such as special operations forces, intelligence-gathering capabilities and airlift.
In 2011, President Barack Obama ordered 100 U.S. special operations forces into central Africa to work alongside African Union troops, who are leading the hunt for Kony and other LRA members. Much of the support focused on intelligence, training and logistical support.
The move was in response to a push by Congress for the U.S. to help capture Kony, a brutal warlord known for abducting children as soldiers.
At one time, the LRA had several thousand fighters and even posed a threat to the government of Uganda. But for the past decade, Kony has been mainly on the run. Down to about 200 fighters, he is in survival mode.
Since AFRICOM joined with regional forces, the LRA has continued to shrink. Many of the group’s senior leaders have turned themselves in to authorities. While the group can still carry out atrocities, it hasn’t demonstrated the capacity to regenerate itself in a serious way.
Yet there is no plan to end the mission.
For Rodriguez, the counter-LRA campaign also illuminates an overarching challenge for AFRICOM as it attempts to prioritize scores of missions both big and small.
“We do a lot of things in a lot of places because we can, not because we need to,” Rodriguez said.
“You have a great partner and we do things with them even though it might not make a difference strategy wise, you know, because it is easy,” he said. “And then other places where we really need to work are hard. So we have to figure out how to change that.”