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President Barack Obama has ordered a new push in the hunt for the brutal warlord Joseph Kony in Uganda, sending U.S. military aircraft for the first time in support African Union troops in the years-long search for Kony. We consider what the renewed effort means in terms of U.S. relations with the African Union and with Uganda, strained recently by anti-gay laws there, and why the decision was made now.
- Karen DeYoung Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, The Washington Post
- Cameron Hudson Director of Policy, US Holocaust Museum; Director for African Affairs, National Security Council(2005-2009); Chief of Staff to U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan (2009-2011)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, demystifying D.C.'s laws. A coalition of advocates and civic hackers have put the city's regulations into a searchable, user friendly format. But first, President Obama, yesterday, stepped up US participation in the search for Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, the elusive leader of the brutal Lord's Resistance Army.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe new search includes US aircraft and more US special operations forces, in support of Ugandan of African Union troops, sparking speculation as to what this push means now. The move comes at a time of strained relations between the US and Uganda. Just last month, Uganda passed laws, or new laws, criminalizing homosexuality, which drew sharp criticism from President Obama. Joining us to talk about this is Karen DeYoung. She is Associate Editor with The Washington Post. She covers foreign policy. Karen, thank you for joining us.
MS. KAREN DEYOUNGMy pleasure, Kojo.
NNAMDIJoining us by phone, from Key Largo, Florida, is Cameron Hudson, Director of Policy with the US Holocaust Museum. Cameron Hudson, thank you for joining us.
MR. CAMERON HUDSONPleasure to be here.
NNAMDICameron Hudson was Director For African Affairs with the National Security Council from 2005 to 2009, and Chief of Staff to the US Special Envoy to Sudan from 2009 to 2011. Karen, tell us about this latest push in the hunt for Joseph Kony.
DEYOUNGWell, the administration is sending a small number of Osprey aircraft, probably four. These are the ones that can operate like airplanes and like helicopters. They have a tilt rotor that goes back and forth. And about 150 Air Force special forces and maintenance people to take care of these planes. And they're going to be used with the African Union Task Force of about 2500 soldiers, that is searching for Kony and the kind of last remnants of the Lord's Resistance Army. Mostly in the central African Republic, but also in south Sudan and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
DEYOUNGUS forces are not allowed to fight unless it's in self defense, and this is supposed to be able to aid the effort to get quickly to places where they've heard that Kony might be, as he's been a very elusive target for many years.
NNAMDICameron, you got a call from the White House on this. How significant is this move?
HUDSONWell, I think it's significant in the sense that the White House and the military are choosing to use military assets in this part of Africa for what is, essentially, a fairly soft target and what a lot of people would consider a humanitarian mission, in many respects. They've used these kinds of assets before, but really to counter terrorist targets in other parts of Africa and the Middle East. So, it's really stepping up their commitment to this, and it's a commitment that the administration has shown since the President came into office. And it follows on what the Bush administration did before that.
HUDSONSo, in many respects, this is a continuation of past policy, and it's showing that the administration really wants to see this thing through to the end, to either take Kony off the battlefield, whichever way it can.
NNAMDIWhat role do you think the US should play in the search for warlord Joseph Kony? You can give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also send us a tweet @kojoshow. Cameron, can you remind us of who Joseph Kony is and why so many resources have been marshaled over the years to find him?
HUDSONWell, Joseph Kony is, essentially, a warlord. He believes he is the messiah, and was able to attract a very large cult following. At one point, 10 or 15 years ago, really at the height of his power, he had several thousand soldiers fighting in his army. Most of those soldiers were child soldiers that he had stolen from families on raids. He terrorized a large swath of eastern Congo and northern Uganda and the southern portion of South Sudan. So, really, an area covering three or four countries, a vast area with little, kind of, central authority in central Africa.
HUDSONHe displaced literally hundreds of thousands of civilians and terrorized those communities for close to two decades. So this is somebody who has really created a lot of instability in that region, and I think one of the things that concerns US policy makers is, you know, his terrorizing of this area creates instability and can create greater regional conflict. And so I think they'd like to see this conflict brought to an end.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, that's Cameron Hudson. He is Director of Policy with the US Holocaust Museum. He joins us by phone from Key Largo, Florida. Joining us from studios at the Washington Post is Karen DeYoung. She is an Associate Editor at The Washington Post who covers foreign policy. We are taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you think there are more urgent humanitarian issues the US should be helping to address in Africa right now? Karen DeYoung, has this ratcheting up, if you will, of the search for Joseph Kony, does that change the nature of the US role on the ground in central Africa? Can you explain?
DEYOUNGWell, technically, no. There are already 100 US special operations, troops that have been there, that President Obama sent in 2011, again, to advise, assist, gather intelligence for the African troops on the ground. And this expands that mission. Certainly, it's more resources . It's the first time they've put military aircraft in there, and anytime you're involved in a situation where people potentially are shooting at each other, even if you're restricted only to self defense combat tasks, there's always the danger of widening the involvement.
DEYOUNGBut again, the rules of engagement are the same, the same as they were, even though the numbers have doubled and they've put these aircraft in. But I think it's important for the administration, which has, obviously, bigger fish to fry in Africa, particularly in the Maghreb and across the Sahel region, where they are engaged with African militaries and counterterrorism operations. And I think this is a relatively inexpensive way for the administration to show that it is as willing to cooperate with Africans on issues that they're concerned about, as much as the ones that we're concerned about.
NNAMDIGlad you brought that up, because Cameron Hudson, US personnel are advising and assisting the African Union Military Task Force. Tell us a little bit about the African Union's role and how it's evolved in this situation.
HUDSONWell, I think that part of this has been driven by US diplomatic efforts. When this operation essentially started, back in 2009, during a raid that the US helped to plan and engineer called "Operation Lightning Thunder," which was a Ugandan, exclusively a Ugandan mission to go into parts of eastern Congo to try to flush out Joseph Kony and take him off the battlefield. That mission ultimately failed and put Joseph Kony on the run. And the Ugandans, essentially, never stopped pursuing him. What's happened is that mission has now been transformed into a much more regional mission under an AU banner.
HUDSONThis was a unilateral mission initially. It's now a multilateral mission, under the AU, comprising all countries in the region. There's an AU special envoy for the LRA crisis. And so, unlike previous efforts, which were solely military, this is being, I think, coupled with a very robust diplomatic effort from US Special Envoy Russ Feingold, an AU Special Envoy, a UN Special Envoy. And so really putting the pieces in place, and the only piece that was missing was the kind of tactical piece that these Ospreys are now going to be able to provide.
NNAMDIBut, Karen DeYoung, Joseph Kony has not been cited for some time, and attacks by his Lord's Resistance Army have decreased significantly in recent years. Why the push now?
DEYOUNGWell, that's obviously a good question. And again, I think, as I said before, part of the answer is it's a relatively inexpensive way for the United States to cooperate with Africa. And it's also, you know, it's in keeping with the President's human rights commitments. Kony's unquestionably not a good guy. I think that the administration would like to improve its cooperation with Africa. And it has to be said, too, I think, that it comes at a time when the President's under a lot of pressure, in a lot of places, where he's been accused of being weak.
DEYOUNGYou know, why isn't he attacking Syria? Why is he letting himself be pushed around by Vladimir Putin in Ukraine? And so, it's, again, it's a relatively minor, but I think symbolic move to, you know, be tough, and to stand up for values.
NNAMDILet's talk about another political dimension to this story. US relations with Uganda have been strained by the harsh new laws put in place there last month, criminalizing homosexuality. What's the relationship, if any, between that and the timing of this move, starting with you Karen, and then moving on to Cameron?
DEYOUNGWell, I think that, you know, this was the request for these aircraft that the Pentagon and the State Department, certainly the Africans made last year. And the administration kind of dithered around and didn't do much about it. As they got closer to the point where they were gonna make a decision, all of a sudden, this problem arose with Uganda, with first the Parliament there passing this very harsh anti-homosexuality law. And Obama then warning Ugandan President Museveni not to sign it, and then, of course, he went ahead and signed it. And the administration said it was gonna review its policy toward Uganda.
DEYOUNGAs they were telling me, at least, about these plans, they were very quick to say and we've also, as a result of our review, we are taking some actions to adjust our assistance toward Uganda, our non-military assistance. And basically, what they're trying to do is re-direct money away from organizations and the government that are actively promoting this anti-homosexuality law, and are taking steps to promote it. And directing that money more toward NGOs and other organizations that they say are working to protect people in Uganda and really fight against HIV there, which is obviously involved in this whole anti-homosexuality campaign.
DEYOUNGSo, they want to make sure that they balance those two things. And again, it must be said that the LRA and Kony are not believed to actually be in Uganda right now. They're probably, I think most people think, in the Central African Republic, which basically doesn't have a government now.
NNAMDIBut Cameron Hudson, there are people, critics who are still likely to say why do Uganda any favors at this particular time?
HUDSONWell, I think, as Karen said, I mean, this is really to benefit the region. And so, while the Ugandans are, I think, leading the fight and probably have had more skin in the game, because they've been more effected by Joseph Kony over the past 20 years than anyone, this is really an AU operation that the administration is supporting. And again, I think that this goes to show that we have complicated relationships in every country around the world, and this is no different. And so, we have to balance two very important and distinct human rights agendas.
HUDSONOne, on the LGBT community, and one to contain and deter Joseph Kony. So, there -- you know, it comes at an odd time, for sure, but as Karen said, these requests for military assets, they take months and months of review and study before our government is going to commit military assets to this part of the world, or any part of the world.
HUDSONAnd so there's a natural course of review and study and planning that goes into this. It just so happens that now is the opportunity that those stars align. I also think that, you know, what we're not seeing is -- and what may well exist too is new intelligence. There have been several missed opportunities over the course of the last 18 months to get close to Joseph Kony. And there may be new intelligence on the ground with a great precision of his whereabouts.
HUDSONSo we may also be seeing a movement towards a very operational outcome, a very tactical outcome right now that we're just not fully aware of.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. Cameron Hudson, thank you so much.
NNAMDICameron Hudson's the director of policy with the U.S. Holocaust Museum. He was director for African affairs with the National Security Council from 2005 to 2009 and chief of staff to U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan from 2009 to 2011. Karen DeYoung, thank you so much.
DEYOUNGYou're very welcome.
NNAMDIKaren DeYoung is associate editor with the Washington Post. She covers foreign policy. We're going to be taking a short break. When we come back, demystifying D.C.'s laws. A coalition of advocates and civic hackers have put the city's regulations into a searchable user-friendly format. We'll talk about that. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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