U.S. Continues Support for Central Africa as it Counters LRA Threat

MacKenzie C. Babb
U.S. Department of State

WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb 29, 2012 — The United States will continue to support the governments and people of Uganda, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan as they work to counter the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a vicious insurgent group that has terrorized central Africa for more than 25 years.

"The U.S. is working to pursue a comprehensive, multifaceted strategy to help the governments and people of this region to end the threat posed by the Lord's Resistance Army and reduce the human consequences of the LRA's atrocities," Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Karl Wycoff said in a telephone briefing February 22, 2012.

U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Brian Losey, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command-Africa, said in the call that the LRA has "traumatized children, murdered thousands of people and caused large-scale displacement of populations across a very wide region" since its start in 1986. The State Department reports the group has been responsible for the murders, rapes and kidnappings of tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children. According to the United Nations, at least 465,000 people were displaced or living as refugees in 2011 due to the LRA threat.

The United States is cooperating closely with multilateral organizations, including the African Union, European Union and United Nations, as well as with the governments of the affected countries, as part of a unified effort to defeat the LRA.

Wycoff said the United States is providing training, equipment and logistical support for military efforts in Uganda, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan to fight the insurgency.

"With our support, these four military forces continue to make progress in reducing the LRA's numbers and keeping them from re-grouping," he said. "We believe it is critical that the militaries in the region continue to work together to keep the pressure on the LRA and protect their own citizens."

Losey also emphasized the importance of country ownership in combating the insurgency, and said the United States is engaged to support, not lead, the effort.

"In the long run, it is Africans who are best-suited to address African security matters," he said. "In this case, four nations decided that they wanted to work together to address a common security challenge, and we're glad to help."

The commander said African security forces in the region have demonstrated their commitment to defeating the LRA, and have begun to develop the unified effort needed to do so.

But Wycoff said effectively countering the group requires more than just a military approach.

"Military efforts to capture the LRA constitute only one part of a broader strategy, and must be nested within a program of civilian programmatic efforts," he said.

In addition to providing humanitarian assistance, Wycoff said, the U.S. and African governments are partnering with civil society and nongovernmental organizations across the four countries to develop early warning systems and increase information about LRA movements. He said they are funding projects to help remote communities in LRA-affected areas develop protection plans, install mobile towers to increase telecommunications capacity and establish a high-frequency radio network to enhance information sharing.

He said the combined efforts successfully led to an increase in the number of people defecting, escaping or being released from the LRA's ranks during the past several months. Welcoming the development, Wycoff said the United Nations is undertaking enhanced efforts to ensure that these individuals are given the necessary support for repatriation and reintegration. He said the organization is also increasing its efforts through leaflets and radio broadcasts to encourage LRA members to defect and return home.

The LRA is accused of committing 278 attacks and more than 300 abductions in 2011. While these numbers represent an encouraging drop from previous years, Wycoff said, they do not mean the group's capacity to wreak havoc has been diminished.

"The LRA continues to cast a wide shadow across the region because of its brutality and the fear it arouses in local populations," he said. "We look forward to the day when LRA-affected areas will no longer need humanitarian assistance and can instead focus on development."

Losey said the United States will remain committed to working with its partners in central Africa for as long as necessary to rid citizens of the LRA threat.