North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The US moves on the LRA (in support of South Sudan?)

For a Nobel Peace Prize winner, US President Obama has been unusually active militarily. The latest rather surprising move has been the announcement that 100 armed military advisors are headed to Uganda (and in or out of neighboring countries) to assist African forces in tracking down the long-time leader of a savage group known as the Lord's Resistance Army.

Before a brief discussion of what we can gather regarding this action, it is worth noting the Obama administration's military actions the past two and 1/2 years. After campaigning on the fundamental wrongness of the Iraq war, the White House is following through, drawing down US troops in Iraq to a possible 3000-4000 size by the end of this year. Mainly trainers for the Iraqi army, this reduction is much more than military commanders had recommended. They had requested a force totaling 10 to 15,000 thousand as a deterrent against more aggressive Iranian infiltration. And now, given Iran's recent plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador on US soil, there will be even more concerns over pulling all combat capability out of Iraq.

On the other hand, the Obama administration has significantly built up troop levels in Afghanistan - now at 100,000 compared to 33 thousand when he took office. Yet, at the same time as announcing his buildup, the President immediately detailed a timetable to reducing his "mini surge" beginning in 2012. The surge and timetable for pulling troops out was all in contrast to his field commanders asking for up to 130,000 troops with withdrawals based on "conditions on the ground."

Click on graph for full image

Perhaps most controversial - at least in terms of campaign promises and policy consistency - is the increase in armed drone attacks in Pakistan against Al-qaeda, with the recent expansion of strikes into Yemen.
Armed predator drone aircraft in Afghanistan used primarily in Pakistan

Click on graph for full image
Armed drone strikes have increased significantly since the Obama administration took office

The White House also chose to spearhead armed support to overthrow Gadaffi in Libya, "leading from behind" after first using the US unique capabilities of tomahawk cruise missiles. The Obama administration placed great emphasis on obtaining explicit UN support, a tacit Arab league go-ahead nod, and multilateral coalition building to distance itself from the Bush administration, which was characterized as taking unilateral actions ...

With this somewhat bewildering series of actions outlined (bewildering at least as to consistency, rationale, and actual contrast from the Bush administration), we might now turn briefly to the Lord's Resistance Army based in Uganda.

For context, locate Uganda, then South Sudan to the north (the map does not yet show the division of that country into two), Kenya to the east, and in turn Somalia to the east of Kenya

From the Wikipedia, "The LRA was formed in 1987 and until about 2007 it was engaged in an armed rebellion against the Ugandan government. It is led by Joseph Kony, who proclaims himself the "spokesperson" of God and a spirit medium, primarily of the Holy Spirit, which the group believe can represent itself in many manifestations.

The leader of the LRA, Joseph Kony, is wanted for trial by the International Criminal Court, just as is the Republic of Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir

The group is based on a number of different beliefs including local religious rituals, mysticism, traditional religion, Acholi nationalism and Christianity and claims to be establishing a theocratic state based on the Ten Commandments and local Acholi tradition.

The LRA is accused of widespread human rights violations, including murder, abduction, mutilation, sexual enslavement of women and children and forcing children to participate in hostilities. The group used to operate mainly in northern Uganda and also in parts of South Sudan, Central African Republic and DR Congo. The LRA is currently listed as a terrorist organization by the United States."

The LRA operations have touched several of Uganda's neighbors

Wikipedia goes on to note that the size of of the LRA at its peak several years ago was as high as 3,000 soldiers, along with about 1,500 women and children. Today, the Uganda military believes the core has been sizeably weakened and reduced to under 1000 fighters. However, one of the horrors of this group is that the bulk of the LRA "soldiers" are children. The LRA may have forced well over 10,000 boys and girls into combat over the past two decades, often killing family, neighbors and school teachers in the process. Many of these children were put on the front lines so the casualty rate for these children has been high. They have often used children to fight because they are easy to replace by raiding schools or villages.

Child soldiers - the ultimate degradation of children ...

There are several first hand reports from missionary acquaintances and other observers that children are often provided collective security centers at which they can sleep and avoid abduction.

Wikipedia noted briefly, almost in passing, that Republic of Sudan has provided military assistance to the LRA, in response to Uganda lending military support to the Sudan People's Liberation Army (now South Sudan).

And yet one might wonder whether in fact this is the key point behind the US move. One US ally, Kenya, has its hands full with the overflow of refugees from the Somali conflict, famine in the region, and most recently a kidnapping of two Spanish aid workers from a large refugee camp in the extreme eastern part of the country. South Sudan is struggling to cope with violence on its new northern border with the Republic of Sudan. Uganda provides troops attempting to police the anarchy in Somalia. So perhaps the US believes it needs to additionally support three allies with this small token of military advisors. (And those vaguely described "armed military advisors" may well be US special forces - a whole different level of unit capability)

So while questions abound, and though the Obama administration's reasons to intervene or not and where having no apparent consistency, this possible larger context in East Africa unrest may give us the best framework to see a strategy at work.


Teatree said...

Just today, the US announced that all military troops will be out of Iraq at the end of the year - not 15,000 nor the 4,000 once thought likely.

Sarah said...

Wow. Those are some really interesting statistics

Teatree said...

And of course, Kenya has now sent troops into Somalia with some observers noting this looks like something planned earlier than just a week after aid workers were kidnapped ...