Countering the LRA-Smart Power in Action
The governments of the LRA-affected region are leading efforts to cope with and end the LRA’s terror. While regional forces are making progress against the LRA with U.S. support, finding and apprehending the LRA’s leaders has been extremely challenging because the LRA operates in one of the world’s poorest, least governed, and most inaccessible regions.
The United States is pursuing a comprehensive approach that supports both military and civilian efforts. As part of this approach the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) has worked to empower affected communities, expand information networks, and prevent human rights abuses. CSO staff hit the ground in the vast and remote LRA-affected areas before U.S. military advisors arrived and traveled extensively to engage directly with affected communities and learn about their security concerns and humanitarian needs. CSO staff linked civil society and NGO leaders with their counterparts across borders, identified needs for donors to address, and advised U.S. military personnel on how to incorporate Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) into their advisory role.
CSO led the drafting of a U.S. government strategy to promote defections by remaining LRA fighters. Former fighters and recent escapees report that many want to leave the group, but fear what will happen to them if they do. CSO staff catalyzed a non-traditional network of U.S. government, UN, local authorities, and non-governmental partners to make it easier and more attractive to peacefully surrender. CSO identified resources and capabilities from across the region that disparate governmental, non-governmental, and local actors could mobilize to expand communications networks and increase the distribution of leaflets encouraging defections. For example, a unique partnership featuring the U.S. military, CSO, the UPDF, and NGOs led to the production and airdropping of 350,000 leaflets capitalizing on the capture of senior LRA leader Caesar Acellam in May. In part due to these efforts, over the last year scores of fighters and long-term abductees have defected or escaped from the LRA.
CSO officials are also working with communities to expand the coverage of radio broadcasts encouraging defections. CSO staff met with former LRA fighters, abducted women, and civil society leaders in Northern Uganda to record new messages that encourage remaining fighters to end the conflict, and worked with U.S. military advisors to establish a new community radio station and upgrade another in the CAR.