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Obama takes aim at Africa's Lord's Resistance Army

Small but lethal jungle guerrilla group destabilizes central Africa.

LRA victim
A victim of the Lord's Resistance Army shows the scar on his forehead from a machete attack as he sits outside a destroyed house on Feb. 19, 2009, in Napopo, northeast Congo. (Lionel Healing/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — With a campaign of kidnapping children to make them hardened soldiers or sex slaves, tactics including amputations, torture and the murders of entire villages, the Lord's Resistance Army has been a vicious, destabilizing force in central Africa for more than 20 years.

Under the cunning leadership of Joseph Kony, the LRA has evaded all efforts to eradicate it by the Ugandan army as well as the United Nations.

Now the LRA must also battle the efforts of the United States to disarm it. U.S. President Barack Obama has announced a strategy aimed at ending the scourge of the LRA , notorious for abduction, rape, murder and pillage across a swath of central Africa.

Obama said the strategy “identifies priority actions related to protecting civilians and eliminating the threat posed by the LRA.” In a letter to U.S. Congressmen last week, Obama said it was necessary to bring, “political, economic, military, and intelligence support to bear in addressing the threat.”

Obama's priorities are to protect the civilians who are the main victims of LRA attacks, to capture or kill LRA leader Joseph Kony and his senior commanders, encourage defections by lower-ranking officers and foot soldiers, and increase aid to affected communities.

Advocacy groups welcomed the announcement which had been expected since May when Obama signed into law the "LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act" after hard lobbying by activists.

“President Obama’s team has done an admirable job in formulating a strategy and demonstrating commitment to address the LRA scourge, but the challenge now is to turn this piece of paper into improvements on the ground,” said Paul Ronan, director of Advocacy at Resolve, a Washington-based advocacy group.

Ronan called on Obama to match the words with “a significant boost in resources.”

Defeating the LRA will be difficult, because the LRA purposely targets communities in remote and marginalized areas.

Details are scarce in Obama's strategy but it does not appear that any U.S. troops will be sent to central Africa. Implementation of the White House plan will depend on funding but some aspects should be relatively inexpensive such as building telecommunications infrastructure — mobile phone and radio capacity — so that communities being targeted have a way of getting information out to the outside world.

Obama also suggested that it will be important to improve coordination of militaries in the region. Last month, Uganda, the Central African Republic, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo agreed to form a joint military force to fight the militia.

In late 2008, U.S. military intelligence helped plan and organize attacks on the LRA but there was no indication that Obama is willing to put American boots on the ground to hunt down Kony.

The LRA rebellion began in northern Uganda in 1987. For more than 20 years the LRA has terrorized northern Uganda and fought a low-level war against President Yoweri Museveni’s army. During that time close to 2 million people have been forced from their homes, and perhaps as many as 70,000 children were abducted to fight in the rebel ranks or to be sex slaves to LRA commanders.