How Do You Catch a Warlord in Central Africa?

It has now been more than five years since President Obama deployed 100 combat-ready troops to Central Africa in pursuit of longtime warlord and sometime spiritual medium Joseph Kony. Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which originated in Uganda but reportedly ranges as far afield as the Central African Republic and South Sudan, is best known for kidnapping thousands of children and forcing them to become child soldiers. For this, Kony has drawn the attention of international human rights groups, who have been very successful in lobbying Congress for funds and legislation intended to roll back the LRA.

While the mission against the LRA has resulted in some successes, namely the capture or surrender of some of Kony’s subordinates, Kony remains at large. The WSJ recently published a thoroughly-reported and vividly-photographed account of the fight against the LRA:

In the twilight of the Lord’s Resistance Army, American commandos are relying less on kill-capture operations and more on psychological operations to lure die-hard militants out of the bush one by one, using their families as messengers.

American helicopters roam the skies deep in the center of Africa, blaring recorded come-home messages from mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles. U.S. Army psyop specialists create personalized leaflets with photos of fighters’ families, and U.S. planes drop them into the bush by the hundreds of thousands. American soldiers produce individualized family pleas to broadcast on jungle radio stations. […]

The tactic, U.S. officers hope, will create a cascade of defections that will eliminate the rebel group before its infamous leader, Joseph Kony, has a chance to rebuild. The region remains beset by a toxic combination of armed groups, extreme poverty and governments that often barely control their own territory. U.S. military commanders want to promote stability where they can, and eliminating the threat from Mr. Kony is at the top of their list.

While it is not clear that capturing Joseph Kony is in the vital interests of the United States, and it’s even more questionable whether there are enough military personnel deployed to accomplish the task, what is conveyed without a doubt in the piece is the sharp-thinking professionalism of the U.S. special forces deployed to the region:

Eloise—U.S. commanders won’t allow her last name to be published—enlists mothers and fathers to beg their children to come home. “We’re trying to tug at those heartstrings, let them know what they’re missing,” said Eloise.

This month, Eloise completed her second six-month tour of duty. At least 44 rebels defected during her time in the region, according to a military tally. Commanders hope the exodus will accelerate as each rebel concludes he doesn’t want to be the last one fighting by Mr. Kony’s side.

The article also does a good job covering the simmering ethnic resentments that the LRA was able to capitalize on in its early days, and it candidly covers the group’s gruesome tactics, such as the mass impressment of child soldiers. You should read the whole thing.

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