Saturday, 28 January 2012

AU military operation - the AU-led Regional Cooperation Initiative Against the Lord’s Resistance Army

I have now finalised the report on LRA in Central Africa. Unfortunately it is in Swedish but I’ll try to summarise the report and the main findings below.

During the autumn of 2011 the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) once again appeared on the international agenda as the AU, USA, and the UN decided to halt the rebels’ progress. During many years the LRA has had a negative impact on the security situation in Central Africa. The Ugandan rebel group has remained a threat against the security of the civilian population in the region over the last years, and has contributed to instability in the Central African region. The group operates in the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan, an unstable area with weak infrastructure. Regional and international actors have to a large extent failed to protect civilians against LRA atrocities, which has contributed to an emerging humanitarian disaster in the region.

The study provides a short description of the origins, motives and structure of the LRA, as well as an overview of how regional and international actors have responded to the group’s presence in the region. The aim is to increase the understanding of the rebel’s incentives with the objective to identify potential solutions to the problems they cause in Central Africa. 

Among other things the study shows how the African Union (AU) is in need of external support to enhance its capacity to act in in such a context. Furthermore, the study highlights what challenges international and regional actors face when operating in areas where state capacity is low or non-existing. The study concludes that one crucial factor is to develop the infrastructure in the region. In the short term, improved infrastructure could facilitate the distribution of humanitarian aid. In the long term it can have a positive impact on political and socio-economic developments and improved infrastructure might threaten the existence of the rebel group. Equally important is for international actors to support the AU regional initiative to integrate planning of how to protect civilians in all military operations. The state security forces in the region face severe challenges due to weak capacity, insufficient training and lack of mechanisms for accountability and are therefore in need of support to be able to fulfill their task. The report also highlights the importance of better coordination between the state security forces, ongoing UN missions and other involved actors. Finally potential political solutions to the problem with LRA are discussed.
What I think is particularly puzzling is the planned AU military operation which is a part of the AU-led Regional Cooperation Initiative Against the Lord’s Resistance Army (RCI-LRA). The headquarters and troops are meant to be operational as of March this year. South Sudan has already pledged 5000 troops to the AU military operation. There is already some 2000 Ugandan soldiers in the region  and a Congolese US trained battalion was deployed to LRA affected areas in the DRC by the end of 2011. As for the Forces Armées Centrafricaines (FACA) only some 200 soldiers are in the Obo area where LRA has been spotted

I wonder how these troops will be able to protect civilians from LRA attacks and also avoid committing atrocities against the population themselves, which is not rare. The EU has been reluctant to support the AU regional initiative due to lack of accountability measures and legal mandate. The operation still has no UN mandate and would probably operate under AU flag as the decision comes from the AU heads of states and the AU Peace and Security Council

The AU Peace and Security Council’s decision on how to implement RCI-LRA is based on a report from the Chairman of the AU Commission. In the report  you can read that: “The RCI-LRA pursues the following objectives:

1.     strengthen the response capacity of the countries affected by the atrocities of the LRA, in order to create inherent capabilities;

2.    create an environment conducive to the stabilization of the region free of LRA atrocities and inclusive of a political process within the framework of the Juba Agreement, if and when duly signed; and

3.    facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the affected areas”

Furthermore the structure for command and control is described as follows: “[…] the command and control structure of the regional cooperation initiative against the LRA shall comprise the following components in order to execute the roles and tasks identified above:

1.     The Joint Coordination Mechanism - Chaired by the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, the JCM shall be composed of the Ministers of Defense of the affected countries. The JCM will act as an ad hoc structure at strategic level to coordinate the efforts of the AU and the countries affected, with the support of the international partners. More specifically, the JCM shall coordinate all political and strategic activities with the affected countries and other stakeholders, enhance political and military cohesion, demonstrate firm intent and regional ability to achieve the end state of the operation, and coordinate capacity-building for the operational units, with a view to enhancing inter-operability and cooperation. The Secretariat of the JCM will be located in Bangui and will be coordinated by the AU Special Envoy for LRA, whose task is to provide the overall political and strategic coordination for the operation;

2.    The Regional Task Force -The RTF shall comprise national contingents from the affected countries, with both tactical combat and support units deployed under the operational command of the RTF Commander. 'The RTF shall have three sector Headquarters (HQs) located in Dungu (DRC), Nzara (South Sudan), and Obo (CAR). The RTF HQs shall comprise thirty officers and shall be located in Yambio, South Sudan. The key appointments for the RTF HQs have been agreed upon. The RTF HQs shall have appropriate civilian expertise. It shall also designate four liaison officers in the Joint Intelligenceand Operations Centre (JIOC), based in Dungu;

3.    The Joint Operations Centre - The JOC shall be a component of the RTF, and be co-located with the RTF HQs, in Yambio, with a total staff complement of 30 officers. Under the authority of the RTF Commander, it shall perform integrated planning and monitoring of the operation.”

Apparently the US has already put up operational bases in Djemah and Obo in CAR where the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) already operates. American military personnel is also deployed in Nzara, South Sudan.  A few days ago  I spoke to a friend who currently is in the Obo area in CAR and he told me that US drones are scanning the area for suspected rebels.

I really hope that a military operation will not result in LRA retaliation attacks as was the case after Operation Lightning Thunder in 2008 which resulted in more than 900 deaths in what has been labeled "The Christmas Massacre". Operation Lightning Thunder was a joint military operation with troops from Uganda, DRC and (then) South Sudan supported by the US. The objective was to bomb the LRA base in DRC and get rid of the leadership. It failed and had no plan what so ever of how to protect civilians. I hope that the actors involved now have learned from that mistake. 

It would be a shame if the civilian population once again was caught between the rebels and state security forces. Sometimes it’s hard to say what’s worse, the LRA or the regular forces that are meant to protect the population but fails to do so and instead  become yet another security threat...


  1. As a side note, concerning the importance of developped infrastructure, it's interesting how people in the affected areas often express the opposite. I have met a lot of people saying that they don't want any roads to be re-opened "because that would open up the way for the rebels". Even thought I very much disagree with this, it's difficult to work against the will of the local people.

  2. Very interesting indeed Emelie. I haven't seen that opinion or thought brought up in any report, recommendation or interview as I was doing research for the study. I did not however myself visit the directly affected areas but some of my informants had been there.

    You definitely point to a current problem when it comes to international interventions: the lack of attention to the local level and the inability to take into account local perceptions. I will get back to that in my next post.

    Any other comments on the subject are most welcome