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The Almost Forgotten US Military Initiative to 'Stop Kony'

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Of course (almost) everyone has by now seen the Joseph Kony 2012 Video, 'Stop Kony.'

According to "Invisible Children," the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), led by Joseph Kony since 1987, has "in its 26-year history abducted more than 30,000 children and displaced at least 2.1 million people."

U.S. officials say, "For more than two decades, the LRA has murdered, raped and kidnapped tens of thousands of people, including children."

Whether those estimates are correct or not, I believe that everyone agrees that Kony is a bad actor.

The video and the movement, however, have drawn a lot of skepticism and criticism not only regarding the number of LRA victims and remaining members, the LRA's present power and areas of operation, but also about the advocacy group's motives, goals, the integrity of the group's fundraising effort, its finances, etc. and the always lurking consequences of "unleashing so many exuberant activists armed with so few facts."

One prominent critic, Michael Wilkerson, believes that the goal is "to make sure that President Obama doesn't withdraw the advisors he deployed until Kony is captured or killed."

And in fact, in a lengthy March 7 letter to President Barack Obama, Invisible Children -- after "applauding" the Obama administration for the military measures already taken -- not only encourages the administration to stay the course but also urges that "existing U.S. efforts [be] further expanded" for fear that the U.S. strategy "may not succeed," and calls for utilizing funds that Congress has made available to help" provide enhanced mobility, intelligence, and other support for ongoing operations."

This brings me to a subject that seems to have been forgotten or overlooked in most of these discussions: Our military initiative to 'Stop Kony.'

Remember, a long, long time ago -- actually less than five months ago, on October 7, 2011 -- President Obama announced that he was "dispatching about 100 U.S. troops -- mostly special operations forces -- to central Africa to advise in the fight against the Lord's Resistance Army -- a guerrilla group accused of widespread atrocities across several countries."

The first U.S. troops arrived October 12.

The A.P. report continued:

"Long considered one of Africa's most brutal rebel groups, the Lord's Resistance Army began its attacks in Uganda more than 20 years ago. But the rebels are at their weakest point in 15 years. Their forces are fractured and scattered, and the Ugandan military estimated earlier this year that only 200 to 400 fighters remain. In 2003 the LRA had 3,000 armed troops and 2,000 people in support roles.

But capturing LRA leader Joseph Kony -- a ruthless and brutal thug -- remains the highest priority for Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, a 25-year-leader who has committed thousands of troops to the African Union force in Somalia to fight militants from al-Shabab, a group with ties from al-Qaida."

Well, less than five months later, how is that military operation going?

A couple of weeks ago the Stars and Stripes reported:

Four months after U.S. special operations forces deployed to central Africa as part of a multinational hunt for the Lord's Resistance Army and its elusive leader, Joseph Kony, attacks by the group are down and defections are up as pressure on the Ugandan rebel group mounts, according to senior U.S. military and diplomatic officials.

"We expect continued progress," Rear Adm. Brian L. Losey, commander of Special Operations Command Africa, told reporters Wednesday from his headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany.

U.S. officials say the roughly 100 U.S. troops, who are deployed to several small military camps in four countries, are there to support regional militaries in areas such as training, intelligence gathering and assist in developing operational plans. Those efforts have already increased pressure on the rebels, Losey said.

How many LRA members are there and where are they?

In recent years, the LRA has shrunk to about 200 fighters -- down from about 10,000 in the 1990s -- who operate in rugged terrain along the border regions of South Sudan, the DRC and the Central Africa Republic. It's virtually roadless terrain roughly the size of California, which makes the group hard to track, Losey said.

Another report says:

Most of the U.S. troops are based near the Ugandan capital, Kampala. But this outpost in Obo -- a town of 15,000 in the far-eastern obscurity of the Central African Republic, an impoverished former French colony of 4 million people -- is the true heart of the effort. Kony and his core followers are believed to be living off the surrounding forests, always on the run.

What do the African villagers say?"Americans are favored by God wherever they are in the world," said Bassiri Moke, a local chief. "We asked God to save us and the Americans came. We hope we won't have to die like before."

And:

"Kony will die now that the Americans have come," bellowed Longbango Jean-Claude, a 38-year-old Congolese refugee who had three family members killed and three more abducted by the LRA in 2009. "Don't put him in prison like a child. Just kill him."

How about criticism of the U.S. military effort? The Stars and Stripes:

On Tuesday, the Washington-based advocacy group Resolve released a report assessing the Obama administration's efforts against the LRA. The group said the U.S. should invest more in early warning systems for civilians, apply more diplomatic pressure aimed at encouraging closer cooperation among the countries where the LRA operates and deploy helicopters to the region so African militaries can respond more rapidly to reported LRA attacks.

"Joseph Kony and senior LRA commanders remain a very real threat to peace and stability in central Africa, and have proven they can survive halfhearted efforts aimed at defeating them," said Paul Ronan, Resolve's director of advocacy. "While it's a huge step forward, President Obama's LRA strategy runs the risk of becoming another well-intentioned but ultimately unsuccessful effort, unless additional steps are taken immediately."

Finally, what does the Obama Administration think of the Kony 2012 video? According to the Stars and Stripes:

[O]n Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland credited the effort to "shine a light on the horrible atrocities of the LRA."

"As you know, hundreds of people -- hundreds and thousands of people around the world, especially young people, have been mobilized to express concern for the communities in central Africa that have been placed under siege by the LRA," Nuland told reporters. "So the degree to which this YouTube video helps to increase awareness and increase support for the work that governments are doing, including our own government, that can only help all of us."