Tuesday, October 22, 2013

An all too familiar story

There's a good story posted yesterday on-line in the New Yorker.

The story is about how Texan philanthropist Shannon Davis and others, have helped fund, train and equip a special unit of the Ugandan army to pursue the notorious warlord, Joseph Kony and his army of child soldiers, now roaming somewhere, people think, in the Central African Republic.

Some thoughts:
Davis and the others rightly suggest that the Ugandans are the ones who must capture or put an end to Kony, not the legions of non-Africans who follow the agonizing and consistent failures of the Ugandan army. 

The result of the Davis funded mission, however, is hauntingly familiar to the first such attack on a Kony camp, funded by the Bush administration in Dec 2008. Despite nearly a year of training and millions in military aid, Kony was long gone when the Ugandans botched what was supposed to be a decisive blow on his base camp in the Garamba National Park in the DR Congo.

In the wake of the attack, it became clear that Kony had been tipped off, mostly likely by the Ugandan army insiders. I would suspect that same thing happened in this latest assault. The Ugandan army is trying to blame US intelligence for not sharing that Kony was already gone. I suspect it is the other way around. The Ugandans knew Kony was gone, but attacked anyway just so the funders would feel that their efforts had not been wasted.

I would suggest that Kony has not really been deprived of a safe haven. He has been roaming the remote reaches of the Central African Republic for more than seven years now, and roamed northern Uganda for 20 before that. Moving and setting up new camps is routine.

I would also suggest that Sudan's president al-Bashir willingly supports Kony, the first person indicted by the International Criminal Court, since now he too is on the court's most wanted list. Helping Kony is finger in the eye of the court.

It's been the same story with Kony told over and over, only with different players. As I argue in First Kill Your Family: Child Soldiers of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army, Uganda does not want to capture or kill Kony. He is much more valuable alive than dead or on trial before the International Criminal Court. That well-funded and well-intention people like Davis and Buffett, not to mention US Special Forces, are willing to train, equip and fund the Ugandans year-after-year illustrates how Kony is a cash cow for the Ugandans.

This has been obvious since the onset when Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni padded his military payroll and the pockets of his generals with thousands of non-existent "ghost soldiers" who were supposedly fighting Kony when he was in northern Uganda prior to vacating the country in 2006. The Ugandan army's refrain is sadly familiar when the generals are asked what they need to capture Kony: money, equipment and training. 

The US continues to advise and assist the Ugandans in their "pursuit" of Kony because the Ugandans are the bulk of the African Union's mission in Somalia. 

As a terrorist haven for the al-Qaeda-like Al Shabab, which conducted that horrific attack on the mall in Nairobi, Kenya, and previously bombed locations in Kampala, keeping a Ugandan force in Somalia is strategically much more important to US interests than Kony will ever be. 

A few helicopters and contingent of special forces to chase Kony is little more than a bone tossed to the Ugandans.
--Peter Eichstaedt

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Talks with the Taliban won't work

For once, President Hamid Karzai may have it right.

As U.S.-Taliban-Afghan government talks were about to open last week in Doha, Qatar, Karzai objected to the Taliban's decorations of their political office with their flag and other markings of their so-called Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

While it may seem like a small thing, the significance of the flag, etc., was huge. The Taliban, in essence, was declaring that the office was an embassy of their country and their "government."

By extension the talks, they were implying, were and are taking place on their territory and on their terms, and with an illegitimate entity -- Karzai's government.

By sitting down with the Taliban in such a circumstance, Karzai knew that it was tantamount to conceding a Taliban victory in Afghanistan.

For all practical purposes, the Taliban is right. They've won the war in Afghanistan.

As I wrote in Above the Din of War, the Taliban controls at least 75 percent of the country and has for the past several years. The Karzai government, such as it is, controls only the major urban areas, due mostly to the presence of U.S., British, and other international forces.

While international forces and Afghan forces patrol the countryside, they do so at the risk of serious Taliban attacks and the high likelihood of devastating roadside bombs.

The relentless and deadly suicide bombings in Kabul and other urban areas, which grow each day in intensity and frequency, show that the grip of the Afghan forces is tenuous.

Once the international pull-out is complete, the Taliban will quite easily cement their control throughout most of the country.  Within six months of the pull out, we can expect to see a map of Afghanistan that resembles that of 2000, when the Northern Alliance held just parts of northern Afghanistan and the Taliban controlled the rest.

The Taliban has nothing to lose and much to gain by engaging these so-called peace talks. They do so from a position of strength because the United States and its NATO allies are headed for the exists.

As the Taliban is wont to say about the U.S. and NATO: "They have the watches. We have the time."

With the American withdrawal set for the end of next year, just 18 months away, the U.S. is desperate for some sort of a negotiated, political settlement.

The fact is that the Taliban has no reason to make concessions or to sign anything that might diminish  their command and control over vast swaths of Afghanistan.

Yet, when and if talks with the Taliban actually begin, the Taliban will earn bonus public relations points by simply sitting down and portraying themselves as willing to talk about peace, regardless of the truth of the matter.

Each and every day such talks continue, the U.S. will reveal its desperate desire to walk away  from Afghanistan and declare, "job done," regardless of the reality on the ground.

Even if an agreement can be reached with the Taliban, there is little or no way that provisions of it could be enforced, should they be violated by the Taliban.

The absurdity that surrounds these would-be peace talks is difficult to fathom.

I would have thought that someone with the experience of Secretary of State John Kerry would have rejected the notion of Taliban talks without major concessions on their part.

Ironically, it seems that Karzai is one of the few who gets it.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Kony's plunder of wildlife

A report issued by the Enough Project and titled, Kony's Ivory, documents yet another in an endless string atrocities by Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army.

The report, http://www.enoughproject.org/files/KonysIvory.pdf,  reveals how Kony and his cutthroats have contributed the destruction of elephant population in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

According to the report, the elephant population has dwindled from about 20,000 (other reports set the figure at only 7,000) to just 1,500 in the past decade due to poaching, much of it by the LRA.

As anyone who has been following this issue knows, Kony and company set up camp in the Garamba park in late 2005 and early 2006, using it as a base while peace talks were conducted in Juba, South Sudan, with the Ugandan government.

Even then, reports were rife that Kony's men were killing the Garamba wildlife, mostly for the meat.
I visited the periphery of the park twice, both times in connection with research for First Kill Your Family: Child Soldiers of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army.

The first time was in 2006 on the northern edge of the park where it borders South Sudan.

The second was on the western edge of the park in 2008 in the town of Dungu, which had been attacked and raided by the LRA, despite the presence of United Nations forces.

In Dungu, I met with wildlife officers who talked about the dangers faced by the park rangers, who had basically withdrawn from much of the park because of the LRA, but also told me of extensive poaching.

It is good that Enough has documented this on-going tragedy, but it may be too little, too late.

The report provides no details on who is buying the ivory, how and why, or where it goes once it leaves the park. The only details we get are from one former LRA captive who says that people arrived in helicopters to buy it. Really? From where?

If the buyers used helicopters, it means some fairly well-heeled smugglers are involved, most likely based in Nairobi, Kenya, or Khartoum, Sudan. Or, more likely, that corrupt military commanders from either country (imagine that!) are in the middle of the illegal trade.

Just last month the Reuters wrote a story about the wider problem of elephant poaching across central Africa, based on a United Nations report, singling out the LRA as an example of the problem: http://news.yahoo.com/libya-war-weapons-may-killing-central-africa-elephants-062616139.html?.tsrc=lgwnaww.

As early as 2004, a year before the LRA entered Garamba Park, the slaughter of white rhinos was being reported as a major concern for wildlife biologists, as noted in the British newspaper, the Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/democraticrepublicofcongo/1462372/Poachers-killing-last-of-the-rare-white-rhinos.html.

Closer to home, the National Geographic Society was also involved, reporting in 2004 about the problem on it's website: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/05/0507_040507_whiterhino.html

Solutions anyone?

The common thread here is that various armed groups across Africa kill the elephants and rhinos for their tusks and horns, since they can get several thousand dollars per pound for ivory. The sale of the ivory buys weapons and supplies for armed groups.

One report mentioned that the rhino horns went to Yemen where they were carved into handles for highly prized daggers for wealthy sheiks. Likewise, the rhino horns are valued for their supposed medicinal qualities and the ivory for its rarity by Asians.

Despite the on-going human tragedy and the destruction of the last wild herds of elephants and rhinos in Africa -- a problem that has been highly publicized for more than a decade -- nothing is being done to stop it.

This is all too reminiscent of what is being done, or more precisely NOT being done, about Kony and the LRA. The Ugandan army, which had been chasing Kony in the Central African Republic for the past five or so years, gave up the hunt by using the recent military coup in the CAR as an excuse to quit.

The U.S. Special Forces mission, sent by President Obama in 2011 to help in the search for Kony, also decided to stand down.

As wildlife activists have been saying for years, the slaughter of African wildlife must be attacked on many fronts.

First, enforcement. The poachers certainly must be stopped. This will require a trained and pervasive force which will require commitment and funding.

Second, the traders must be found, stopped, prosecuted and jailed.

Thirdly, the demand must be curtailed. This will require working with the Chinese and Southeast Asian nations to gain their support and cooperation.

While the Enough Project report may help rekindle interest in the poaching problem, it does little more than note a problem that people have known about for decades.

If there is to be any hope of actually solving the problem, Enough and the other groups involved in the report need to much more than plow what is already heavily plowed ground. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sudan harbouring Kony: report

It should come as no surprise that reports this past week from Resolve Uganda claim that Sudan has been harboring international fugitive from justice, Joseph Kony, and his Lord's Resistance Army.
Sudan, of course, denies the charge.  

Titled, "Hidden in Plain Sight," the Resolve report  (http://www.resolveuganda.org/) includes satellite images that it claims is a recently-abandoned camp, where Kony apparently was seen in late 2012. The region is called Kafia Kingi, and is in the far northwestern corner of South Sudan, where the borders of Sudan and the Central African Republic meet.  
Despite the fact that the territory is clearly in the newly independent South Sudan, Kafia Kingi is "disputed" land nominally controlled by Sudan.

"Eyewitnesses testify that elements from Sudan's military actively provided Kony and other LRA leaders with periodic safe haven in Sudanese-controlled territory from 2009 until at least February 2013," according to the Resolve report.
While the report raises the necessary red flags about Kony's whereabouts and lines of support, it reflects a host of past behavior patterns on the part of ALL parties concerned.
For much of the 20 years that Kony fought his bloody war in northern Uganda, he and his army of child soldiers found refuge in South Sudan during Uganda's dry season, where Kony was able to establish semi-permanent camps and grow food.
In First Kill Your Family, I write about my interviews with Kony's former top commanders who described being hosted by the Sudanese, who controlled South Sudan then, including one LRA commander who was flown to a hospital in Khartoum where he was treated for a severe wound that resulted in a leg amputation.
Sudan's support for Kony was due to Kony's guerilla war against Uganda, following the principle that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was an ardent supporter of the late John Garang, who led South Sudan in its war for independence from Sudan. 
The situation is no different today than it was back then. While Kony has directed his attacks in the past couple of years against the innocent people of eastern Central African Republic, the fact that he remains camped out in South Sudan is a warning.

Then as now, Kony has the strong potential of being a thorn in the side of South Sudan, wreaking havoc on the South Sudanese, who even now are struggling to solidify their independence and their claims to the oil-rich Abyei region that is challenged by Sudan.
Another repeated pattern that the Resolve report reveals is of Uganda's wholly inept efforts to capture Kony. Uganda's army, which has been chasing Kony since 2008 when peace talks finally collapsed, is considered one of the best in east Africa.
The fact that Uganda's army can't find Kony is not an accident. Kony is much more valuable to Uganda alive and on the loose than he is captured and on trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where he was indicted for war crimes in 2005. 
Kony has been and continues to be an endless excuse for Uganda to received millions of dollars of U.S. and international civilian and military aid. 
After all, U.S. Special Forces were assigned in 2011 to help Uganda's efforts to find Kony in the Central African Republic -- just the latest tranche in two decades worth of money and equipment that has been handed over to the Ugandans.
What has Uganda been doing with all that support and advice? Not much, it appears, since the search for Kony for the past two years has been based in Obo, a remote town in the far eastern tip of the Central African Republic.
Obo is nowhere close to where Resolve says Kony has been operating since 2009. Look for yourself on www.googlemaps.com. Kony's apparent location is about 400 north of where the Ugandans and the Americans have been looking.
If a handful of humanitarian activists can track down Kony, what have the Ugandan and their American advisers been doing? Not much, because Uganda does not want Kony captured or killed, but is happy to accept American aid.
If the Resolve report is even remotely true, this is a huge embarrassment to the State Department and the U.S. military advisers.
According to new reports, this is the U.S. response: "The United States is aware and continues to evaluate reports that the LRA has operated in the disputed Kafia Kingi area claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan," said Patrick Ventrell, deputy State Department spokesman.

"The US and the international community as a whole would take very seriously any credible evidence of support or safe haven being provided to the LRA," he said, adding Washington has encouraged Sudan to cooperate with regional efforts to counter the LRA.

Meanwhile, the US has thrown more money on the table, a reward of $5 million for the capture of Kony, who Secretary of State John Kerry said would "not be easy to find."
Given the fact that Uganda once arrested, jailed, then deported a group of mercenaries who were organizing to capture Kony, this reward will undoubtedly result in the same lack of success as all previous efforts.