The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been one of central Africa’s cruelest and most enduring armed groups over the past 30 years. The LRA has abducted over 67,000 youth, including 30,000 children, for use as child soldiers, sex slaves, and porters, and has brutalized communities since its inception in 1987. It was designated as a terrorist group by the United States and prompted the first ever set of arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court against the LRA’s leader, Joseph Kony, and other top commanders.
The group draws income from elephant ivory, gold, and diamonds, and has received support from the Government of Sudan since 1994. The LRA has contributed to the slaughter of elephants in Garamba National Park in eastern Congo, in order to trade ivory and maintain their activities.
After mounting pressure from international and local activist groups, the US Congress passed legislation to address the LRA’s threat and support affected communities. As part of that policy, President Obama authorized US military advisers to assist a regional military task force, the African Union Regional Task Force (AU-RTF), in pursuing Kony and encouraging defections to weaken the LRA and bring justice to tens of thousands of victims. The mission has reduced LRA attacks by 90% and weakened the LRA to roughly 100 fighters spread out over four countries.
One of its top commanders, Dominic Ongwen, surrendered in early 2015 to ICC charges and currently faces trial in The Hague.
Since then, eight members of Kony’s inner circle have also defected. Another high-ranking LRA commander, Michael Omona, surrendered to US forces in the Central African Republic in March 2017.
Today, Kony remains at large, with defectors saying that he is mainly in and around the Sudan-controlled disputed enclave of Kafia Kingi. In a major blow to human rights, the United States in March 2017 announced that it is withdrawing the vast majority of its counter-LRA mission by the end of April 2017. The U.S. should continue supporting efforts to apprehend Kony and encourage defections, and Uganda and the African Union must continue the counter-LRA mission. Completely abandoning the mission would create a vacuum of security for vulnerable communities in the Central African Republic and northeastern DRC, and disincentivize defectors by eliminating key surrender sites. The United States should maintain its commitment to defection messaging, support to LRA-affected communities, and the ultimate capture and prosecution of Kony.