U.S. special forces, in collaboration with Central African Republic troops and Ugandan soldiers, have intensified search for LRA leader Joseph Kony, believed to be hiding somewhere deep in the forest of the Central African Republic, north of Obo.
According to the BBC, Kony and his close aids have been wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague since 2005. He is wanted for war crimes against humanity, including rape, abductions and killings. Al Jazeera reports he is accused of kidnapping children to serve as child soldiers and as sex slaves, and his men have displaced thousands of local people since he launched his rebel group in 1986.
Kony has been able to elude Ugandan forces in the past years due to the ability of his men to move across porous borders of the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Congo. But with U.S. special forces now providing intelligence, and better communications technology linking the forces of the three African countries, progress is being made and the search for Joseph Kony has zeroed in on the region north of Obo in the Central African Republic.
The special forces consisting of 100 men were sent to help regional forces late in 2011.
AP reports that a 29-year-old captain from Texas involved in the effort to track down Kony, said: "We don't necessarily go and track into the bush but what we do is we incorporate our experiences with the partner nation's experiences to come up with the right solution to go out and hopefully solve this LRA problem."
According to AP, U.S. special forces receive intelligence from a variety of sources including local hunters.
Ugandan Army spokesman Col. Felix kulayigye, said there has been little contact with the LRA since March and the LRA is thought to now number between 150-300 core fighters. The Ugandan Colonel said: "They're hiding. They are not capable of doing."
An army commander Col. Joseph Balikuddembe, said soldiers have since January killed seven LRA fighters in the area and captured one and rescued 15 people, including five children abducted by the group.
There are concerns that if Kony is not captured he could always make a comeback. He is reported to have said often: "if I have only 10 men, I can always rebuild the force."
Although expectations are high, the American troops face daunting challenges. Kony's men have the reputation of being seasoned jungle fighters who have mastered the art of bush fighting and have eluded authorities for decades. According to AP, they attack late at night and use many simple but effective techniques to elude trackers such as walking along rocks, along streams and sometimes even marching backwards to confuse trackers. Kony has stopped using radios and satellite phones for communication and relies instead on runners and multiple meeting points.
The U.S. troops realize that the most important factor in the search is intelligence from locals. But locals will give information only if they are sure of safety. AP reports that General Carter Ham, head of U.S Africa Command, said: "The population have to believe that they are secure and once they believe they are secure from the LRA, you start to deny the LRA the opportunity to attack villages to get people, to get food, to get medicine."
The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) was formed in 1986 among the Acholi of northern Uganda to fight against the Ugandan goverment in Kampala. A former fighter described life as an LRA rebel: "We were trained to kill — forced to kill — otherwise we'd be killed ourselves. I still have dreams — nightmares."
AP reports the U.S. has donated $500 million to recovery efforts in the northern Ugandan region in the aftermath of the LRA war and since 2008, $50 million has been provided in funds to support the Ugandan military's logistics. This year $35 million has been committed to the effort to find Kony.
General Ham, head of the Africa command, said: "I'm confident that the mission will be successful, but I can't give you a timeline when that's going to occur... It is one of those organizations that if you remove the senior leader and the small number of those who surround him, I believe this is one of those organizations that will not be able to regenerate."