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Time to put an end to Joseph Kony’s reign of terror

Whatever happened to Kony 2012

Before “Gangnam Style,” there was the viral Kony 2012 video, which made Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leader Joseph Kony the world’s best-known international war criminal overnight. But the man himself remains at large in the jungles of Central Africa. The human toll mounts as children continue to be press-ganged by Kony’s followers into service as soldiers, porters, and sex slaves. The LRA’s strength may be a fraction of what it was a decade ago, but with reports of increased support from the group’s longtime friend, the Sudanese government, the LRA still poses a major threat not only to civilians but, if Khartoum’s support grows, to the overall stability of the four countries where the LRA has conducted attacks.

If President Obama wants to make the world a better place and repair his legacy, then apprehending Kony — a man believed to be responsible for the forced conscription of tens of thousands of kids — would be a good start. This is a winnable war, and if the United States, regional governments, and others build on the momentum already established, the LRA could be history by the end of 2013. But getting the job done in the president’s second term will take more than publicity. It will take an enhanced strategy. So far, efforts against the LRA have been inadequate. One problem is that they have been led by the Ugandan army (whose own human rights record is complicated); although the United States deployed 100 military advisors to assist the Ugandans, these troops are not authorized to fight the LRA. Other regional countries have made token contributions to the effort, which recently came under the African Union (AU) umbrella. But the AU has so far mustered only 3,000 of its intended 5,000 deployed troops, and too few Ugandan soldiers are in too wide an area without adequate air transport, human intelligence networks, or physical access to where the LRA actually is.

While the LRA operates in a vast area equivalent to the size of Arizona, the Ugandan army is deployed in a much smaller area the size of West Virginia. Besides, interviews the Enough Project conducted with civilians from the area as well as with former LRA combatants suggest that the Sudanese government is allowing Kony a base and haven in South Darfur. Here are three things Obama and his team can do to really bring Kony to justice: First, Obama needs to strengthen the existing effort to weaken the LRA. This will require more African forces where the LRA is actually operating, backed by expanded human intelligence networks through improved programs to support defectors and more international support for affected communities. Second, Obama should push for a high-level diplomatic initiative to be launched by the AU and the United Nations to gain access to the areas of the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sudan that are currently LRA safe havens. If the regime in Khartoum continues to deny access, stronger measures — such as U.N. targeted sanctions, an investigation into those providing sanctuary to Kony, and cross-border operations inside Sudan under the international “responsibility to protect”doctrine — should be considered.

Third, Obama should help the AU build an elite special-operations unit — trained, equipped, and working in close cooperation with U.S. military advisors — to directly target Kony and his top deputies. Although some rebel groups continue operating after their leader is removed from the battlefield, the LRA is so tied to Kony’s personality and leadership that his demise or capture would most likely put an end to the group’s activities. With bipartisan support and hundreds of thousands of young Americans unexpectedly providing political space for a more robust U.S.-Africa partnership through the surprising viral advocacy of the Kony 2012 movement, Obama should move to bolster the campaign against this vicious predatory militia now. Good politics and good policy rarely intersect so conveniently.

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