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November 2017
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You can’t have it both ways

My head is going to explode from the criticism I’m hearing now about the U.S. helping the Ugandan government and neighbors militarily pursue Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army rebel elite.

Look, in 1993, I was one of the earliest journalists in this country to write — and write consistently — about the war in northern Uganda and how it was destroying children and childhood. I was firmly on the bandwagon of trying to end this war through negotiations, in no small part due to the possibility that trying to crush the LRA would mean killing rebels who were victims, too, of kidnapping and conscription. But there should come a point when reality dictates policy. Yes, Ugandan President Museveni has done wrong in this war as well, and has helped fuel it. Bu I believe he has been truly open to ending the wear through talks in the last couple of years. I don’t care about his motivation. It doesn’t matter to me that he may have done so only because allies were pressing their thumbs on him. If Kony had come in from the bush to sign the peace pact that had been painstakingly negotiated, Museveni, I think, would have signed it. But let us be honest: Kony will likely never surrender as long as the International Criminal Court indictment is hanging over his head. And at this point, considering his reluctance to come to the table, there is no reason to withdraw or postpone the indictment.

So what’s left to people of good conscience who want to see this bloody ordeal end? It’s chasing Kony and his top aides down militarily. Now, did the United States, Uganda, the DRC and Sudan have a smart military plan? No, not if they didn’t ring the area where they thought Kony might have been and, thus, allowed him  to escape. That bears a similar ring to how Osama bin Laden and the Taliban were able to flee Afghanistan and enter Pakistan because, in part, the border area in the White Mountains near Tora Bora was open.

Now, the LRA is moving in small groups and terrorizing civilians in the DRC. It is a dreadful development. But it is nothing new — the LRA generally has moved in small groups since its hey day.  We all want it to end, and that’s why this isn’t the time to stop pursuing Kony. Considering the ICC indictment is going to be dropped at this point, the best leverage to get him is chasing him and threatening his personal well-being. This pressure has likely prompted one of the cruelest LRA commanders also sought by the ICC, Okot Odhiambo, to say he will surrender. We must wait and see if that happens. In the meantime, the U.S., Britain and others could help close down the LRA by providing more intel and advice for the chase. The targets should be Kony and his commanders, not the rank-and-file. The timing is obvious: when the intel has pinpointed Kony’s location and a cordon with enough soldiers has surrounded him.

The LRA’s terrorizing of the region has to end. If Kony won’t come to the table after so many opportunities, it’s time to stop wishing and use other means so more children aren’t stolen, more girls raped, more childhoods lost.

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