October 18, 2011
News reports in recent days have disclosed that the Pentagon is very publicly shipping 100 U.S. special forces troops to central Africa to combat the growing terrorist threat there. No, the remnants of al Qaeda have not traded the sunny climes of Pakistan for the inhospitable plains and rain forests of Africa. Rather, the Pentagon is worried about the recent resurgence of an ultra-violent homegrown African terrorist group called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), led by a man named Joseph Kony who believes that he is God’s messenger.
The genesis of the LRA can be traced back to rural Uganda, where 24 years ago Kony created the organization as his personal tribal militia. Over the last quarter century, the LRA has carved a bloody trail through four countries - Uganda, the Congo, the Central African Republic, and the Sudan - leaving behind a trail of tens of thousands of dead and mutilated bodies.
If you think that al Qaeda or the Taliban have committed the worst terrorist outrages in recent years, you would be wrong. According to the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), Kony’s LRA holds the distinction of having committed the single bloodiest terrorist attack in the past five years. On January 17, 2009, LRA troops descended on the village of Tora in the Congo and brutally murdered 400 of the inhabitants in an orgy of violence so grotesque that it made some United Nations peacekeepers sick to their stomachs.
Since the attack on Tora, the Ugandan military, with U.S. backing, has launched a sustained offensive whose goal has been to destroy Joseph Kony and the LRA. In December 2008, with U.S. intelligence and logistical support (the U.S. has secretly provided Uganda with C-130s and Russian-made AN-12 transport aircraft to move their troops), the Ugandan military launched an offensive called Operation Lightening Thunder against the LRA forces in northern Uganda and the Congo. The Ugandan offensive was, by all accounts, a huge success. By early 2010, the Ugandan Army had destroyed 60% of the LRA and chased Kony and the remnants of his forces, estimated to be less than 300 soldiers, into the northeastern corner of the Central African Republic adjacent to the border with Sudan.
Kony and the LRA were on the ropes and ready for the kill. But then, for reasons no one seems to be able to explain, in January 2010 the U.S. government cut off the logistical support for the Ugandan forces despite urgent pleas from the U.S. embassy in Uganda to keep the money and supplies flowing. In the nearly two years since the aid cutoff, Kony has rebuilt his forces in the sanctuaries offered him by the Sudanese government, and LRA forces have begun creeping back into their old stomping grounds in Uganda, the Congo and the southern Sudan.
The experience with Joseph Kony and the LRA is yet another sad example of the U.S. government being unable to sustain its focus long enough to finish the job in the War on Terror. In 2001, we crushed the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in less than six weeks, but allowed the the remnants of the Taliban to flee into northern Pakistan. We beat Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda at Tora Bora in Afghanistan in December 2001, but allowed the terrorist leader and his forces to escape and rebuild themselves in northern Pakistan because we pulled our forces out of Afghanistan in order to prepare for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. The U.S. government’s counterterrorism efforts against the al Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Somalia have been stalled for years, in large part because of the on-again, off-again approach of the White House and the Pentagon to these wars over the past decade.
And now the Pentagon is with much fanfare flying in 100 Green Berets and Navy SEALs to Uganda to restart the offensive againt Joseph Kony’s resurgent LRA. It is a worthy goal. But given our track record over the past ten years, one has to wonder how long it will last.