The United States has announced its plans to withdraw troops from the Central African Republic, where a special task force had been combating the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and searching for its infamous warlord, Joseph Kony, since 2011. The withdrawal will end a six-year campaign against the group. Uganda, which has been battling the LRA for decades, also announced plans to end its involvement.
Created in 1987 by Kony, the LRA has received international attention for committing various war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murders, rapes, mutilations, and the coercion of children to become soldiers. Once a formidable organization credited with killing over 100,000 people and kidnapping around 60,000 children to become soldiers and sex slaves, the LRA now reportedly has fewer than 100 members. Consequently, even though Kony still remains at large, he is the sole leader out of five that has not been captured to date.
Because of such numbers, both the US and Uganda have deemed their efforts to combat the LRA a success. The head of the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) stated that the task force is looking to "move forward" because the LRA, although not entirely eradicated, is struggling to survive. Additionally, last week representatives for the Ugandan army declared that Kony "no longer poses any significant threat" to the country's national security, thus deeming their mission a success.
It seems likely that the groups have weighed the costs of continuing their search for Kony, which has totaled between 600 and 800 million US dollars for AFRICOM, against the risks of a continued LRA presence. Since LRA numbers are at all-time lows, the two countries see the risks as unsubstantial, with Uganda explicitly calling the group "ineffective."
However, not all have evaluated the risks to be so little. Experts in the Central African Republic warn that a security vacuum could be created in the region if the US and Ugandan forces leave, enabling the LRA to resurface. A specialist on central Africa at the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI) cautioned that the withdrawal could lead to renewed LRA attacks, adding, "Nobody is under any illusion that the Central African troops which are to be sent there to avoid a security vacuum will be able to neutralise the LRA." Other armed groups in the area may also be emboldened by the removal of these forces.
Civilians are especially cognizant of the risks of withdrawal. In fact, on 17 April, about 6,000 people protested in the streets of a southwestern CAR town demanding that both sets of troops stay until Central African forces could properly replace them. A spokesman from AFRICOM stated that the task force will continue to work with regional forces to avoid a security vacuum, but the complete effects of the withdrawal remain to be seen.