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SF soldiers make progress in hunt for Kony

May. 27, 2012 - 09:34AM   |   Last Updated: May. 27, 2012 - 09:34AM  |  
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Green Berets and U.S. intelligence personnel have bolstered the manhunt in central Africa that is reportedly gaining ground on despot Joseph Kony's rebel group, accused of abducting and conscripting children and killing more than 1,000 civilians since 2009.

Living among four African militaries in the bush, 100 U.S. special operations troops mostly Special Forces A teams are advising military leaders, sharing critical intelligence through "fusion centers" and coordinating combat operations to protect locals and target the Lord's Resistance Army.

With U.S. backing, Ugandan forces captured one of Kony's top commanders, a chief LRA strategist, Caesar Acellam, after a brief clash in Kampala on May 12. Army officials would not say whether U.S. intelligence led to the arrest. But the soldiers brought new capabilities including enhanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to the hunt for Kony.

The U.S. task force also supports armies from the Central African Republic, Republic of South Sudan and Democratic Republic of the Congo, all of which have been ravaged by the LRA.

President Obama announced the U.S. would deploy special operations troops to Africa last October.

Congress has authorized $35 million for counter-LRA ops in central Africa. The LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act was signed into law in May 2010.

The U.S. forces were selected based on their regional knowledge, experience, judgment and competence, Maj. James Scott Rawlinson, a spokesman for Special Operations Command Africa, wrote in an email.

The downrange operators also coordinate with U.S. embassies to integrate operations into broader U.S. government efforts, Rawlinson said.

The troops are stationed in Obo, Central African Republic; Dungu, Democratic Republic of the Congo; Nzara, South Sudan; and Entebbe and Kampala, Uganda, but can travel central Africa by air or ground "as the situation dictates," he said.

Special Operations Command Africa was established in 2008 to build up regional security, implement communications and eradicate violent extremist organizations and networks.

Since 2008, the command has coordinated air transportation, issued communications equipment and trained the Ugandan military.

The Defense and State departments have also provided supplies and equipment to African military forces.

No fixed timeline for a U.S. withdrawal has been announced, Rawlinson said.

"We have been assigned the task of enabling African security forces to remove Kony and senior LRA leaders from the battlefield," he said. "The end state for this mission, simply put, is to enable African security forces to render the LRA ineffective."

During counter-LRA operations, African security forces have launched patrols relying on U.S. intelligence, but no U.S. operator has fought in direct combat during the deployment, Rawlinson said.

To further enhance missions, the U.S. is looking to employ more unmanned aerial vehicles in the area.

"We believe we are helping our partners to have increasing success tracking and pursuing LRA elements," Rawlinson said. "Although the number of LRA attacks has increased slightly in the first few months of 2012, we believe there are signs that the group is in survival mode and feeling significant pressure."

Degraded by a lack of food and being constantly on the run, the LRA has split into smaller groups, an estimated total of 200 fighters, which roam the vast central African jungle, according to Ugandan officials.

Kony is suspected to be hiding somewhere in Sudan and has traditionally lived in bush camps away from other LRA leaders, according to Ugandan officials.

He was indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2005 for crimes against humanity.

The LRA's attacks in Uganda began in the 1980s, when Kony sought to overthrow the government, and lasted until Ugandan forces dispelled the rebels in 2002.

The rebels shifted their violence to bordering nations, allegedly terrorizing villages, to include using girls as sex slaves, according to the United Nations' Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict.

Children also serve as cooks, porters and spies in the LRA, and many of them are killed or wounded during fighting and attempted escapes, the U.N. reported.

The website LRA Crisis Tracker reports that the LRA has abducted nearly 2,500 children since December 2009.

Despite the capture of Acellam, hunting down LRA leaders has proved tough, with the rebels moving in small groups and avoiding technology. Encounters between troops and the rebels are rare.

But the U.S. troops aim to strengthen African forces' ability to prosecute the LRA.

"As we move forward, counter-LRA operations conducted by African units should increase in frequency and effectiveness as our processes become more refined," Rawlinson said. "We are committed to sharing information that can help regional forces better predict LRA movements and more effectively pursue the LRA and protect the civilian population."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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