I, and my colleagues at Invisible Children, have worked on the issue of the violent rebel group The Lord's Resistance Army ("The LRA") for 8 years. They have raped, murdered, and mutilated their way through central Africa for 26 years. There are few people in the world who know more about them and their pervasive brutality than we do and I applaud this new and decisive action taken by our President.
Friday, President Obama announced that his administration is deploying around 100 troops to a region in central Africa that has been brutalized by the LRA and their violent cult leader Joseph Kony.
These troops will work alongside the regional efforts already underway to protect civilians from LRA atrocities and to remove Joseph Kony and his top commanders from the battlefield.
The addition of well-trained and well-equipped US Military personnel will give the ongoing efforts a much greater chance at success. The President should be applauded, the troops should be honored and the United States should be proud of undertaking a larger role in this global and local coalition for the following reasons:
There is not a single circumstance on the planet today that more clearly warrants international military support on humanitarian grounds than that of Joseph Kony and the LRA.
- Joseph Kony, leader of the LRA, does not have a shred of legitimate authority. He is not connected to a government or an established entity in any manner.
- The LRA has virtually zero support from any population or people group, not even their own tribe supports them.
- The LRA does not have a stated political cause, list of demands or even an economic interest in the territories that they occupy.
- Peace talks with the LRA have been tried and failed on multiple occasions with multiple different mediators, most recently again in 2009.
- Since 2006, the LRA has operated outside of their home country to roam freely and cross boarders to commit attacks in D.R. Congo, C.A.R. and South Sudan.
- The countries in which the LRA currently operate are trying to stop them, but have been unable to achieve success. They have all asked for and will welcome international support.
- Kony was the very first man indicted by the International Criminal Court for War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity. The ICC currently wants him and two other LRA commanders who are indicted. His apprehension is 100% legal.
- Without any popular support from a local population, for over 10 years Kony has resorted to abduction children and brainwashing them into becoming child soldiers to fight for his cause.
- The LRA are attacking innocent and unarmed people for no purpose other than personal gain for the top commanders. They attack only to invoke fear, steal supplies, abduct children and maintain their survival.
- They often use primitive weapons (rocks, blunt objects and machetes) to conserve their limited munitions and inflect maximum brutality.
- Best estimates are that there are only 200-400 fighters left in the LRA.
This is a unique situation going on in the world today. There is none other like it. Joseph Kony is holding hostage hundreds of thousands of people in central Africa, through his army of abducted fighters who are fighting for self-preservation and fear of Kony's supposed spiritual powers. When it comes to criteria warranting international assistance, the LRA would satisfy every one of them. All of the boxes have been checked.
We applaud President Obama for taking this action.
However, others do not agree. The key objections to this action surround three ideas: an over-extension of our resources, starting another war, and an absence of National Self Interest.
It will be heard: 'America is in debt, we have an employment crisis, and it isn't our job to meddle in other problems that don't involve us.'
It is true that this conflict does not involve the United States, but as the world's only super power, with specifically unique military capabilities, there are certain rare instances in the world where crimes are so egregious, and the solutions so clearly attainable, that it would be unjust to stand by and watch.
Here, the US is only deploying around 100 military personnel in an advisory role to help support the Uganda military already in pursuit of the LRA's leadership. These troops are specifically instructed not to engage in offensive action against the LRA. Their job is to raise the level of technical support and training available to the Ugandan Forces already in pursuit. This is a pragmatic and reasonable expenditure of our resources in response to the highly supported legislation mandating such action back in May of 2010.
Secondly, United States involvement in solving this conflict is not the 'start of another war.' In the cases of Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, and Somalia, the United States was entering a widespread cultural conflict with thousands of actors and deep ideological rifts between the people. As history has shown, these circumstances prove to be long and arduous commitments with heavy casualties and frustrating success. Why? Because we're fighting an ideological enemy that continues to win converts and often accelerates conversion in response to American involvement. In this case, we have an entirely different situation. The LRA has no ideological support. As enumerated in the facts above, they are not tied to a legitimate government, they are not supported by any community or group of people, and they have no demands. They are simply a violent cult surviving on the fact that the world will ignore their atrocities so long as they are perpetrated on communities at the bottom of the economic spectrum. President Obama's actions are changing this.
Thirdly, National Interest is an evolving idea. It has historically been relegated to the simplistic desires of economic advantage, maintenance of access to materials and commodities, and local security. The widespread support of the legislation that led to this action shows a changing tide in citizenship identification. A growing number of young Americans now identify globally as readily as they do nationally and feel a responsibility to help when others are facing the most extreme levels of human brutality. Isolationist sentiment is unattractive when it comes to the most extreme abuses of human rights.
Lastly, in certain circumstances, it is actually our job to 'meddle in other problems' and bring our unique capabilities into an equation. Not only is The President implementing an overwhelmingly supported bi-partisan 2010 bill called The LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, but he is also fulfilling a promise made by the United Nations Security Counsel. This is something that the United Nations ratified in 2005 in the General Assembly called The Responsibility to Protect. I encourage you to look it up and learn about it. It roughly states that the leadership of the world should step in and aid countries that are unable or unwilling to protect their own people from unmitigated slaughter if certain benchmarks of brutality and disregard are met. Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army are indeed some the worst perpetrators of brutality in the world today. And they've moved with impunity for 26 years.
President Obama is fulfilling the mandate given him from bi-partisan United States legislation and as a member of the Security Counsel of the United Nations under The Responsibility to Protect.
This is something that should be celebrated and supported. The Youth of America and Invisible Children say thank you, and our thoughts and prayers are with the brave troops that are representing the United States in this noble and just mission.