Months Into Kony Mission, U.S. Action Unclear

In the Central African Republic, U.S. Special Forces soldiers are on the hunt for Joseph Kony, the brutal leader of the rebel group the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA has been responsible for abducting tens of thousands of children and turning them into sex slaves or killers. The U.S. military set up its outpost in the country four months ago. Audie Cornish talks to Washington Post reporter Sudarsan Raghavan, who wrote about the U.S. involvement.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Americans have captured Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Surely, they can catch Joseph Kony. So begins a story in The Washington Post this week, quoting a tribal chief in Central African Republic. Roughly 100 U.S. Special Forces soldiers have divided up and spread out into CAR, as well as to parts of South Sudan and Congo and Uganda. Their mission: to track down the notorious Kony, leader of the vicious rebel group known as the Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA.

But as Post reporter Sudarsan Raghavan found, several months into the mission, it's not yet clear what exactly these U.S. troops are doing, much to the frustration of locals who have long lived in fear of Kony. Sudarsan Raghavan joins me now from Nairobi. Hello there, Sudarsan.

SUDARSAN RAGHAVAN: Hi, hi. Nice to be with you.

CORNISH: Now, Kony's been in the news lately, thanks to that short documentary that went viral here in the States, created by the group Invisible Children. But can you give us a reminder of who Kony is and why U.S. troops have gotten involved in this situation?

RAGHAVAN: Sure. Well, Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army began in the mid-1980s. They originally started to overthrow the Uganda government. But over the years - over the decades, really - they've evolved into probably the most brutal militia on the African continent. They've kidnapped tens of thousands of children, turning them into child soldiers, into sex slaves. They've really targeted vast numbers of people over a region the size of Texas.

The Americans are particularly interested in going after Kony because the LRA was put on a list of terrorists. And after that, the International Criminal Court also wants Kony to be put on trial for the brutalities he's committed over the years.

CORNISH: So, Sudarsan, I understand that these special forces troops, they can't actually go into the forest and look for Kony themselves, right? I mean, what are they doing?

RAGHAVAN: That's correct. They have a base in Obo, which is a very small town in southeastern Central African Republic. It's a pretty small base. They have security cameras on top, razor wire surrounding it. I saw American Special Forces guys with tattooed forearms and sunglasses come in and out. But in speaking with the residents of Obo, they themselves just wonder what the Americans are doing.

You know, they've yet to see them, you know, in action, so to say. Now, the Americans tell me that their role is purely advisory. They're just assisting the Ugandans, and it's not their role to actually go in and track Kony down themselves. And to be frank, I mean, it's the regional forces, Ugandans, who have - you know, they've been hunting this guy for nearly three decades.

So they're the ones who have the knowledge of the forest, knowledge of the bush where Kony's presumed - and the LRA is presumed - to be hiding.

CORNISH: Now, I understand that Joseph Kony and his LRA have staged multiple attacks in the last year, but they're also considered smaller and weaker than they were. And I'm wondering if you can describe the importance of the politics behind this pursuit of Joseph Kony.

RAGHAVAN: Sure. You're absolutely right. They are much more weakened than they've ever been, and you start to wonder why the United States is going after a militia that has been so weakened. Well, there are several reasons for this. For one thing, Kony is a very uncontroversial target. If he were to be caught, no one would protest that. So that's one reason.

Second reason, you know, even though they are weakened, they do continue to be a threat, and the Americans are concerned of threat to their African partners' peace and security in this region. But I think probably what some analysts have told me is that there's also a sense that, you know, the Americans want to support the Ugandans.

The Ugandans have been key allies of the United States in counterterrorism, especially in Somalia, where the Ugandans make the bulk of the African Union Force there that is fighting the al-Qaida-linked militia al-Shabaab, which certainly the United States consider a key threat to its own security and to regional security. There's also, you know, pressure from human rights groups, like the Invisible Children's video that gained so much attention over the past few weeks is also adding pressure to find Kony.

CORNISH: Sudarsan, thank you for talking with us.

RAGHAVAN: My pleasure.

CORNISH: Sudarsan Raghavan is a reporter for The Washington Post. He joined us from Nairobi.

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