1. The Secret War Against the LRA

    March 19, 2012

    Officials have confirmed that since late 2009, the U.S. government has been secretly funneling intelligence information to the Ugandan military, as well conducting a number of extremely sensitive intelligence collection operations out of Entebbe International Airport outside the Ugandan capital of Kampala, all for the purpose of assisting the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) in their efforts to destroy the last vestiges of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), the African terrorist group led by Joseph Kony. The U.S government officially designated Kony as a foreign terrorist on August 22, 2008.

    It is not a secret that the U.S. government is actively trying to destroy what is left of the LRA. A leaked March 17, 2009 State Department cable revealed that in the fall of 2008, the U.S. government agreed to provide the Ugandan military with intelligence, cover the Ugandan military’s fuel costs as they chased after Kony’s forces, and the Pentagon agreed to send a military planning team to Kampala to review the Ugandan military’s plans. Since then, the U.S. role in the hunt for Kony and his LRA fighters has been slowly escalating. Last year, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), which is based in Stuttgart, Germany, announced that it was sending 100 special forces operators to Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly known as Zaire), the Republic of Southern Sudan, and the Central African Republic to help train and provide technical assistance to the armed forces of these nations in their fight against the LRA.

    But the intelligence aspects of the U.S. government’s efforts against the LRA have remained cloaked in secrecy, in part because of the U.S. government’s longstanding differences with the president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, who has not only harassed opposition parties, arrested opposition political leaders, and manipulated national elections (European Union observers alleged that the 2011 national elections in Uganda had been rigged), but he also abolished term limits in 2006 so that he could remain in power indefinitely with the backing of the Ugandan military and security services. Museveni’s dictatorial behavior has earned him the scorn of opposition parties at home and pro-democracy groups and human rights activists abroad.

    Despite this, since 9/11 the U.S. government has largely cast a blind eye towards some of Musaveni’s more egregious behavior because Washington has come to increasingly depend on the Ugandan military to combat America’s enemies in central and east Africa. For the past five years the Pentagon and the State Department have been secretly assisting the UPDF in its efforts to root out and destroy the Lord’s Resistance Army, as well as secretly financing the presence of Ugandan troops in Somalia. Since March 2007, more than 5,000 Ugandan troops along with 4,000+ troops from Burundi, all of whom are paid with U.S. government money, have kept the U.S.-backed Somali Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu in power and defended it against the advances of the Somali al-Qaeda affiliate, al Shabaab. Everyone agrees that without the Ugandan and Burundian ‘peacekeeping’ troops, the systemically weak and corrupt Somali government would have collapsed years ago.

    But it is the covert proxy battle against the LRA where much of the U.S. support for Uganda is currently focused. Since 2008, the Pentagon and the State Department have been diligently working behind the scenes to provide military and intelligence support to the Ugandan military in the fight against the LRA, with the U.S. embassy in Kampala coordinating the provision of money and technical assistance to the Ugandan military. A leaked December 2009 State Department cable has revealed that since at least the fall of 2009, American intelligence personnel have provided intelligence to the Ugandan military about the LRA’s movements and activities through a special unit set up inside the Ugandan Ministry of Defense called the Kampala Combined Intelligence Fusion Center.

    But it is the secret aerial reconnaissance missions being flown of out Entebbe International Airport which are deemed to be the most sensitive aspect of the U.S. government’s covert assistance to the Ugandan military. According to my sources, there are two classified reconnaissance operations currently being conducted from Entebbe airport, one called Operation TUSKER SAND, which is managed by U.S. Africa Command; and a parallel project called Operation CREEK SAND, which is run by U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany. Getting any detailed information about both operations is extremely difficult because they are deemed to be politically very sensitive by the State Department.

    According to the sources, the U.S. military is covertly flying at least one (and possibly two) Hawker Beechcraft Super King Air B200 reconnaissance aircraft, or variants thereof, out of Entebbe airport. These aircraft fly daily reconnaissance missions over the Congo, Southern Sudan, and the Central African Republic trying to locate Joseph Kony’s elusive LRA forces in their jungle hideaways. The primary sensor used on the Super King Air B200 aircraft at Entebbe is an electro-optic imaging system called JAUDIT, which stands for Jungle Advanced Under Dense Vegetation. JAUDIT is a LIDAR (Light Detecting and Ranging) sensor system, which uses a laser to probe deep inside the triple canopy jungle prevalent in much of Central Africa to capture images of personnel and equipment below the trees.

    The TUSKER SAND aircraft is also equipped with powerful surveillance radars capable of penetrating jungle canopies, and perhaps even sophisticated radio intercept equipment, although that has not been confirmed. All the data collected by the aircraft is relayed in realtime via satellite to a ground station at Entebbe airport, where it is processed, analyzed, and reported to the Ugandan military via the Kampala Combined Intelligence Fusion Center. For those who would like to see a picture of a mockup of this aircraft, here is a link.

    Because of the political sensitivity of the operation, the TUSKER SAND/CREEK SAND aircraft at Entebbe are operated and maintained by U.S. civilian contractors, most of whom are former military pilots and intelligence operators. A privately-owned American company called Commuter Air Technology (CAT) modified the aircraft to carry the array of sophisticated reconnaissance equipment needed for the mission. Another company called R4 Incorporated used to provide the pilots and sensor operators on the aircraft. And personnel from another company, Northrop Grumman Technical Services, seem to be responsible for processing, analyzing, and reporting the intelligence data collected by the JAUDIT sensor system.

    Not much of an effort has been made to hide the TUSKER SAND/CREEK SAND operation from public view. A U.N. official just returned from Uganda reported seeing a white-painted  Super King Air aircraft with a very large pod mounted on the underside of its fuselage sitting on the tarmac on the military side of Entebbe airport next to another smaller aircraft painted in an olive-green color scheme, which also had some unusual bulges protruding from its fuselage. If you go to Google Maps and examine the satellite images of Entebbe Airport currently, you can clearly see both aircraft parked together on a hardstand on the military side of the field.

    Uganda is not the only place where these mysterious aircraft are currently operating. Another of the contractor-operated Super King Air B200 aircraft equipped with the same JAUDIT reconnaissance system has been operating since 2009 from Kandahar airfield in southern Afghanistan as part of a classified operation called Project BUDDLIGHT. The aircraft provides intelligence support to U.S. Marine Corps special operations forces currently operating against the Taliban in Helmand Province. In addition to JAUDIT, the BUDDLIGHT aircraft also carries a number of other classified electro-optic sensor systems. Why JAUDIT is being used in Afghanistan is a mystery since, to the best of my knowledge, there are no triple canopy jungles there. Hmm.



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