Saturday, October 17, 2009

A new chapter?

After predicting more than a year ago that the now rebels-for-hire of the Lord's Resistance Army, led by their maniacal leader, Joseph Kony, eventually could be used against Darfur rebels, it appears to be coming a reality.

In a story published this Saturday in The Independent, and featuring the above photo by Reuters, Africa Correspondent Daniel Howden quotes a South Sudan military man as saying that LRA has entered South Darfur.

"We have confirmed that the LRA are there and they have clashed with the local population," said Major-General Kuol Deim Kuol.

South Sudanese officials are prone to saying such things based on extremely flimsy evidence. They eagerly make statements that call attention to the nefarious and always duplicitous dealings of the Sudan government in Khartoum.

That said, South Sudan knows what it's talking about since the south battled Sudan for more than 20 years. They know well that Sudan loves to use proxy militias, such as the janjaweed, to fight its bloody battles against defenseless civilian populations.

The LRA fits the Sudan ideal since it specializes in attacking, mutilating, raping and destroying the softest of civilian targets, just as it has done for 20 years in northern Uganda and for the past three years in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, two of which were during the farcical peace talks in with Uganda, held in Juba, South Sudan.

While I remain skeptical that the LRA will be actively involved in what remains of the war in Darfur, I think the LRA is being positioned for that possibility by the Sudan government, which may again be arming and supplying the LRA.

The region south and west of Nyala, south Darfur's largest town, and extending into southeastern Chad, has been the province of Darfur rebel groups such as the Justice and Equality Movement. The JEM remains a strong threat to the Sudan government, having conducted the wild raid on Omdurman in February 2008, an attack that shocked Khartoum and revealed its glaring vulnerabilities.

With Kony's militia-for-hire in the area, Sudan has a perfect foil to conduct attacks on civilian targets in south Darfur and southeastern Chad, which is where Darfur rebels have found refuge for regrouping and resupply.

This will allow Sudan to tell the world that the war in Darfur is over, when in truth it is not.

My stronger sense is that Kony's move into the Darfur region is more for him to obtain the weaponry and supplies he will need for Sudan's likely efforts to disrupt the coming elections in South Sudan in 2010.

This will be a prelude to what could be an all-out civil war with horrendous civilian casualties as South Sudan moves to its independence vote in 2011, as called for in Sudan's 2005 peace agreement.

Sudan has used the LRA like this before, having given the LRA aid and comfort in South Sudan during the long 20-year war with Uganda. Sudan used the LRA also to fight south Sudan's army, which to the delight of Khartoum, made the region a veritable hell-on-earth where four armies fought: the LRA, the Ugandan army, the Sudan army and the South Sudan army.

Likewise, a consensus is growing that the recent fighting in the eastern South Sudan province of Jonglei is much more than bloody ethnic clashes over cows that it is portrayed to be. Rather, it is part of a calculated effort by the Sudan government to destabilize the region and prevent the development of the region's oil, which South Sudan needs desperately.

While this is speculative, it is based on well-established patterns by Sudan and the horrific history of the LRA. One can only hope that people like the U.S.'s envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration, is cognizant of all of this as he flies around the world trying to negotiate a "deal" with Sudan.

The sad reality is that while the world knows all too well the death and destruction that follows that LRA wherever it goes, nothing is being done about the LRA other than a lot of deep sighing and muttering.

As the numbers of dead and mutilated and raped continue to grow and as the LRA continues to grow increasingly malignant, those among the international community, such as the Dutch, the Danes, Scandinavians, and others who supplied the LRA from 2006 to 2008, saying that it was necessary for peace, should think again about the blood of innocent people that now covers their hands.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Boots on the ground

I apologize for my long absence from this blog site, but I just recently returned from six weeks of research and travel in East Africa, collecting material for two new books.

The first concerns Somalia and its pirates and the second concerns the seemingly endless fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

You can expect to hear a lot more about these two topics in future postings.

Before we get there, however, there's an interesting article in The East African, written by Keven Kelley, about the joint military exercise in northern Uganda involving about 450 U.S. troops.

According to Kelley's article, total troops will be about 1,000, with Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi each sending 150 soldiers to join 450 US military personnel in Kitgum for the October 16-25 event.

Labeled as operation Natural Fire 10, it is reportedly the U.S.'s largest African exercise this year. While this is clearly an exercise loaded with significance, it is the not the first such military exercise. Such joint maneuvers began across Africa in 1998, hence the name Natural Fire 10 -- this being the tenth.

The US Army describes it as “a regularly scheduled training exercise, which offers an opportunity for East African partner nations and the US military to work together to increase regional capabilities to respond to complex humanitarian emergencies.”

What is most interesting is the location: northern Uganda. It is a message not only to Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army, but also Sudan.

That message being, of course, that a multi-national force of 1,000 -- an effective number for a fighting force anywhere in the world -- can be assembled in this strategic location with relative ease.

Such a force would be a huge problem for someone like Kony, should he think about a return to northern Uganda. It shows that Uganda has allies who are willing not only to donate moral support and money in the fight against Kony and his maniacal militia, but are willing to put boots on the ground.

This is an acknowledgement that Kony is much more than Uganda's problem, and has become a regional nightmare. Though Kony's precise whereabouts are not known, the latest information is that he has been operating in the remote eastern regions of the Central African Republic. Uganda's army has permission from the CAR to chase Kony and has been doing so with their typically limited results.

The biggest regional concern, however, is not the CAR, but widely-rumored support that Kony once again is getting from Sudan as we slowly but surely approach the coming election cycle in Sudan and South Sudan.

Since Sudan has effectively backed off its offensive in Darfur, this has freed up personnel and resources for coming confrontations in South Sudan, which is fully expected to vote for independence in 2011 -- an eventuality that Sudan does not want.

Preparing for an expected battle, South Sudan has been arming itself as we know from the famous shipment of weapons that was temporarily delayed off the coast of Somalia by Somali pirates last year. Feisty publications such as Jane's have been following the progress of the weaponry to Juba, South Sudan.

However, should Kony be added to the mix in any pending chaos in South Sudan, the Sudan People's Liberation Army will need some help. What better than an integrated, multi-national force from regional powers, aided and equipped by the U.S.?

There are strategic advantages for the U.S., of course, which has rarely had a good relationship with Sudan, ever since the militant and fundamentalist Islamic takeover of the government a couple decades ago.

We hardly need to mention Sudan's hosting of Osama bin Laden in the late 1990s or the U.S.'s condemnation of Sudan's so-called war in Darfur which the U.S. has labeled a genocide.

The U.S. quietly has been supporting South Sudan's drive for independence, knowing that a staunch ally in Sudan's back yard will give the U.S. a firm foothold in the region and first-hand chance to keep an eye on Sudan.

Among other things, the U.S. very much wants to see the expected revenues from South Sudan's vast and untapped oil reserves to fill the pockets of an ally, rather than antagonistic Sudan.

When push comes to shove in the next year or two, the current joint military exercise taking place just 30 miles from the South Sudan border shows how that support could take a very dramatic step.