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STUTTGART, Germany — As the Obama administration continues to devise a strategy for eliminating one of Africa’s most wanted rebel leaders, Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army continues to fill its ranks with abducted child soldiers, according to a new Human Rights Watch report.

The Uganda-based LRA has captured nearly 700 people in the Central African Republic and the northern Democratic Republic of Congo in the past 18 months, according to the report released Wednesday. Nearly a third of those abducted are children, many of whom are forced to serve as soldiers or used for sex by LRA fighters, according to the humanitarian group.

The Human Rights Watch investigation also found that at least 255 captives were killed during the 18-month period. Frequently, it said, the abducted children are forced to use clubs to crush the skulls of fellow abductees who attempt to escape.

“The LRA continues its horrific campaign to replenish its ranks by brutally tearing children from their villages and forcing them to fight,” Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in the release.

Human Rights Watch called on the affected governments and their allies to do more to protect civilians and rescue abducted children.

In May, President Barack Obama signed into law the LRA Disarmament Act, which mandates a strategy be developed to eliminate the LRA. The legislation calls for a “regional strategy to support multilateral efforts to successfully protect civilians and eliminate the threat posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army.”

For more than 20 years, the LRA has operated in remote jungles and borderlands, roving from Uganda to areas in southern Sudan, Congo, and the Central African Republic.

So far, the U.S. has only played a limited role in efforts to neutralize the LRA.

U.S. Africa Command is training an elite battalion of Congolese infantrymen who will serve as a quick-reaction force to protect volatile border regions where the LRA operates. AFRICOM, along with contractors hired by the U.S. State Department, began working with the Congolese battalion in March as part of a six-month program that will field more than 700 Congolese troops.

Because the strategy continues to be reviewed, AFRICOM officials say it is premature to speculate about what role the U.S. military may have in support of Uganda’s hunt for LRA leadership.

Several humanitarian groups have long called for more U.S. involvement, though some advocates say support should be focused on intelligence gathering. In a recent study on the LRA, the International Crisis Group recommended the U.S. deploy a team to the region to run an intelligence platform that centralizes “all operational information from the Ugandan and other armies, as well as the U.N. and civilian networks, and provides analysis to the Ugandans to better target military operations.”

In the past, AFRICOM provided limited intelligence and logistical support for troops working against the LRA. In December 2008, AFRICOM deployed a small team of advisers who worked with Ugandan soldiers leading the campaign know as Operation Lightening Thunder. That effort, which resulted in a ripple of LRA violence against civilians in the region, failed to capture the rebel group’s leaders.

“Instead, the LRA spread out across the central African region and have continued their campaign against civilians,” Human Rights Watch said in its report.

vandiverj@estripes.osd.mil

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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