US Military Goes on the Hunt for Joseph Kony

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World, a coproduction of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. It's been 25 years since Joseph Kony and his forces started terrorizing parts of Central Africa. Over the years Kony's Lords Resistance Army has been responsible for some of the worst violence in the region. But many Americans first heard of the man in March. That's when the video Kony 2012 was posted online to focus global attention on Kony and his practice of abducting children to use as foot soldiers.

Video: Joseph Kony, he has an army. And what he does is he takes children from their parents, and he gives them a gun…

Werman: The video which has received 88 million views so far says Kony can still be caught, despite the challenges he presents. The US military joined the hunt for Joseph Kony late last year. The BBC's Dan Damon has just visited a US base in the Central African Republic that's involved in the hunt. He's now in Kampala, Uganda, and Dan, what is the US military doing in the Central African Republic specifically in Obo, what's there?

Dan Damon: What's there is just a 20 man unit of Navy Seals, special forces, and what they're doing is coordinating, let's say, and they're providing logistical help, medical facilities to the troops, the para military troops from Uganda, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, from South Sudan and from the Central African Republic, who are out there in the bush. What the Americans are not doing, and they make this clear, is they are not on patrol in the jungle, and indeed perhaps jokingly we said if you saw Joseph Kony in your sights would you shoot him? And they said no, we'd get one of our partner nations do it all.

Werman: Well here's General Carter Ham, he's overall commander of the US African command and he's describing the challenge they face.

Carter Ham: It's a very large area, very heavily forested, looking for a very small number of people in a wide, wide area, so it's a very difficult mission. But I'm very confident that the four African nations that are involved with a little bit of support from us and from others ultimately will be successful.

Werman: Dan, in Kampala, General Carter Ham has referred to what he calls man on the moon syndrome. Are there high expectations because the US is now involved?

Damon: Indeed, what he means is if the Americans can put a man on the moon then why can't they catch Joseph Kony? They've got all this sophisticated surveillance equipment. The point made to me by one of the Navy Seals there, Captain Greg, and ironic isn't is that this is as far as you can get from the sea anywhere in Africa, here I was talking to a Navy Captain. He told me that they're not there to provide that sort of facility. They are there to coordinate, to professionalize the armies, to give them the skills, but they're not going to put in a lot of American effort, and of course, they backstory to that is this is still a limited deployment because it will be difficult for American to deploy in large scale politically at the moment, it wouldn't be something the White House would want to be getting into.

Werman: Hm, a small US Navy Seal team as you say and they're organizing the African troops it sounds like, how well do the US forces know this area and the situation? Are they indeed the best forces to be organizing this?

Damon: They recognize, the Americans there, that's the superior skills in the bush are with the local armies, but what they don't have is the intelligence gathering equipment. It's more likely apart from any surveillance that might be done by the armies out there. That it'll be a hunter out in the forest who notices an NRA camp or perhaps somebody will escape from a raid. And the raids go on, Marco, by the way, the most recent one was just about seven days ago near Obo, so the NRA or some parts of it are still very active around this region of Central Africa.

Werman: Yeah, I was gonna ask you, I mean there's still fear of Joseph Kony, how big is the threat that he still poses?

Damon: It's the fear that poses the threat. Somebody told me a moment of violence can mean years, perhaps a lifetime of fear for these communities because these are farmers. The land is plentiful and that's how people lived out in Obo when I was there. I was struck on a couple of occasions by mangoes, full ripe mangoes falling off trees. You know, it's a place where things grow, but people don't get out town now because they're afraid of the NRA. And even in those areas of northern Uganda where the NRA was driven out many years ago, people still fear him. They think he can come back. They think he's got these magical supernatural powers, plus of course, they believe and the Ugandan Army confirms, they have evidence that Sudan, Khartoum is supporting the NRA, supporting Kony and providing him with new weapons.

Werman: And then give us a reality check here, how much did the Kony 2012 video that was released by Invisible children, this NGO, actually fuel the new muscular hunt for Joseph Kony?

Damon: The American military, the diplomats that I've been meeting over the past few days will deny that. They say they're glad of the video because it has focused attention and maybe some other countries will make some contributions too, but they point out that they've been funding the Ugandan Army to the tune of a million and a half dollars every month since 2008 to help with the hunt for Joseph Kony. So they're not new into this game. They haven't been pushed into it by a Twitter or Facebook campaign, but they do recognize that there is a great deal of interest now because this is as well as being a political story, a military story, it's very much a human story. And I met some of those people who had suffered by Joseph Kony. I met one of the women, his wives, [inaudible 5:38] who came out of the bush not long ago with a 3-year-old baby, Joseph Kony's child.

Werman: Dan, you said the Navy Seal line is that if they see Kony they won't shoot him, they'll order the Ugandan Army to shoot him, but would anyone shoot him to kill? I mean he's wanted by the ICC?

Damon: I think it's most unlikely that he'll be captured alive. He himself said he would die like Hitler. He told that to a woman who tried to negotiate with him. I met her, she's Betty Bigombe, a member of parliament here. She tried on several occasions to get Joseph Kony to give himself up. He said he had three options – prison, death or exile – he wouldn't take prison.

Werman: The BBC's Dan Damon speaking to us from Kampala, Uganda. Dan has been on the front lines in the hunt for Joseph Kony. Thank you very much, Dan.

Damon: A pleasure, Marco.