Last year alone, attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) displaced some 25,000 southern Sudanese, according to the United Nations.
The group’s activities in that area, where it has been killing, raping and abducting civilians for the past six years, has especially affected the southwestern corner of the world’s newest country, its most fertile and potentially productive region.
Although viewed primarily as a Ugandan group, the LRA’s deadly activities have affected security far beyond its original turf in the north of that country, operating in southern Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic.
Obama informed House Speaker John Boehner in a letter Friday that he had authorized the deployment of about 100 troops to advise regional armies in the fight against the LRA and its leader, Joseph Kony.
Obama said that the U.S. has supported regional military efforts against the LRA since 2008. He cited legislation he signed into law last year in which Congress “expressed support for increased, comprehensive U.S. efforts to help mitigate and eliminate the threat posed by the LRA to civilians and regional stability.”
“In furtherance of the Congress’s stated policy, I have authorized a small number of combat equipped U.S. forces to deploy to central Africa to provide assistance to regional forces that are working toward the removal of Joseph Kony from the battlefield,” the president wrote.
Formed in the late 1980s in northern Uganda, the LRA soon became notorious for atrocities including the mutilation and murder of civilians and the abduction of children forced to serve as soldiers or sex slaves. Once estimated to have up to 3,000 fighters, researchers believe its ranks today to be 200- or 300-strong at most.
“If you ever had any question if there was evil in this world, it’s resident in the person of Joseph Kony and in that organization,” U.S. Africa Command commander Gen. Carter Ham told a Center for Strategic and International Studies forum in Washington earlier this month.
Notwithstanding its name and occasional invoking of the Ten Commandments, the LRA is less accurately described as a “Christian” organization than as a brutal cult led by a conceivably psychotic killer who claims to be possessed by spirits.
Its only known state sponsor has not been a “Christian” entity, but President Omar al-Bashir’s Islamist regime in Khartoum. Bashir began supporting the LRA in the mid-1990s in response to the Ugandan government’s backing for his arch foe in Sudan’s long and costly civil war, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).
‘Barbaric rebel cult’
Khartoum’s support for the LRA, which covered intelligence, weapons and other supplies, supposedly ended when Bashir and the SPLA signed the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which led eventually to South Sudan’s independence this year.
But a U.N. expert report published last November raised concerns that Kony was seeking to reestablish ties with his former patron.
It reported on an Oct. 2010 meeting between LRA representatives and senior Sudanese military officers along the border between Sudan and the Central African Republic. According to witnesses to the encounter, the report stated, “the purpose of the LRA mission was to re-establish relations with the Sudanese authorities and to request assistance, including safe passage and political asylum for Joseph Kony.”
“According to the eyewitnesses, no decision was reached, but the Sudanese armed forces reportedly provided the LRA delegation with their mobile and satellite phone numbers to facilitate future contacts with Kony,” it said.
Last February, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the administration was beginning the drawn-out process of removing Sudan from its list of terror-sponsoring states, citing its compliance with the CPA.
Soon after her announcement, Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) introduced a bill making Sudan’s removal from the terror-sponsor list contingent on the administration certifying to Congress that Khartoum is “no longer engaged in training, harboring, supplying, financing, or supporting in any way the Lord’s Resistance Army, its leader Joseph Kony, or his top commanders.”
Although the LRA has not been designated as a foreign terrorist organization under U.S. law, President Bush did place it on the Terrorist Exclusion List in 2001, a determination that prevents people associated with listed groups from visiting the U.S.
In his National Security Strategy in 2006, Bush listed the LRA – described as “a barbaric rebel cult” – as one of a number of regional challenges that “demand the world’s attention.”
In 2008, Kony was named a “specially designated global terrorist” under executive order 13224, a post-9/11 tool designed to disrupt funding to terrorists.
The International Criminal Court in 2005 issued arrest warrants for Kony and four other LRA leaders, on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, rape, sexual slavery and recruiting children as soldiers.