What you should be reading if you want to understand the US and the Lord’s Resistance Army

Very simple: Mareike Schomerus and Tim Allen’s piece in Foreign Affairs. Few have studied the LRA longer or more in depth.

A runner up is the latest ICG report.

[Update: For more recent posts on the 2012 campaign, also see here.]

The US has sent in 100 elite military men to help Uganda capture the notorious Joseph Kony. The short story, as I see it:

This ain’t Seal Team Six. And the US troops aren’t new — we’ve been involved before, and have had advisors on the ground in previous offences (but it’s convenient to hide that when they were such colossal failures.)

Any unsuccessful attempt to capture Kony will mean, as before, the retaliatory slaughter of civilians and more displacement and kidnapping. (This is my assumption of what will happen.)

100 US advisers and an inept, unmotivated Ugandan army does not sound like a recipe for a successful attempt. So sadly I do not expect Kony on a platter any time soon.

If the US and Ugandans have ambitious and serious new plans, they are doing a wonderful job of concealing the fact. Another well-concealed fact: capturing Kony will probably mean going through a wall of formerly abducted children. Kony usually prefers a bodyguard of 13-year olds, since he doesn’t trust anyone older. I’m not sure if there are many children with him now (most, I suspect, have now grown up) but either way it will be messy. Don’t expect to see that in a press release soon.

As far as I can tell, none of the longstanding LRA experts are being consulted the US or Ugandans. So exactly where is the offensive getting their information and ideas?

The answer, from Schomerus and Allen, is despairing: the Enough Project, Invisible Children, and the Machine Gun Preacher folks. Talented advocates, but not necessarily the most talented LRA or counter-insurgency experts.

My general attitude: even when the US can do little to solve a problem, I usually endorse symbolic gestures  of support. Except, of course, when those gestures lead to symbolic gestures in return, like the pillaging and slaughter of villages. The fact that these risks aren’t being acknowledged is not tragic. It is irresponsible, short-sighted, and wrong.

(Update: For background, not current events, how could I forget our LRA book?)