Tag Archives: Uganda

The US is Giving a Boost to Forces Looking for the LRA

Four CV-22B Ospreys, two MC-130P Hecrules, and a single KC-135R Stratotanker will arrive at Entebbe airport in Uganda by the end of the week. The entire task force has approximately one hundred and fifty personnel supporting it. This is the latest deployment in support of Operation Observant Compass, the US operation to support efforts to hunt down the elusive Lord’s Resistance Army and its leader, Joseph Kony. The LRA has terrorized central Africa for decades, looting and raping, as well as most notably kidnapping thousands of children over the years to serve as soldiers and sex slaves.

Two CV-22B Ospreys taxi to their new home on June 24, 2013, at RAF Mildenhall, England. The Ospreys, assigned to the 7th Special Operations Squadron, were the first of 10 slated to arrive as part of the expansion of the 352nd Special Operations Group.

Two CV-22B Ospreys taxi to their new home on June 24, 2013, at RAF Mildenhall, England. The Ospreys, assigned to the 7th Special Operations Squadron, were the first of 10 slated to arrive as part of the expansion of the 352nd Special Operations Group.

The US has support efforts to end the LRA’s campaign of violence over the years, but until recently this was limited mostly to intelligence gathering, military aid, and training events. In October 2011, a small number of special operations forces deployed to Uganda to better coordinate efforts in that country, as well as in Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and South Sudan. The African Union’s Regional Task Force (AU-RTF) still leads the fight against the LRA, with the US firmly in a supporting role.

Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, assigned to the East Africa Response Force, provide security as pararescuemen of the 82d Expeditionary Rescue Squadron (ERQS) return to an HC-130 of the 81st ERQS during a training exercise on January 12th, 2014.

Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, assigned to the East Africa Response Force, provide security as pararescuemen of the 82d Expeditionary Rescue Squadron (ERQS) return to an HC-130 of the 81st ERQS during a training exercise on January 12th, 2014.

That support is significant, however. Spy planes flown by US forces and private contractors have searched for Kony and his men as part of Operation Tusker Sand and other efforts. They have also shuttled AU troops between a number of small airstrips in the region and airlifted them into battle. When the LRA moved its main base of operations into CAR, the US helped establish an intelligence fusion center there.

Instability in the region has caused the anti-LRA to wax and wane to some degree. The US military put the operation on hold for a period last year. Crises in CAR and South Sudan have also threaten to derail the campaign. The US military, however, says the latest deployment is not in any way related to those regional crises.

According to the Pentagon, the more significant problem has been that the aircraft available are limited in their capabilities and availability to take full advantage of the intelligence gathered. AU troops often arrive to reported LRA base camps after the rebels have already left. The CV-22Bs are faster than the existing aircraft and their deployment is designed to help the AU-RTF pounce on LRA fighters once they’ve been located before they can flee into the jungle. The MC-130Ps will be able to refuel the Ospreys to help extend their range and on-station time. The KC-135R will be able to refuel the MC-130Ps, again increasing their range and on-station time.

US Africa Command (AFRICOM) had sought the Ospreys months ago, but it appears the aircraft are few and far between. The Air Force did not request any more in its latest budget either. US Central Command (CENTCOM) is providing the aircraft for the latest deployment, in an arrangement that gives hints at a larger picture of US operations in the region. While the CV-22Bs are based in Djibouti in the AFRICOM area of responsibility, they are tasked to support CENTCOM, and it remains unclear what unit they report to. The focus of their operations is likely in Yemen on the other side of the Gulf of Aden. There is no information as to what their usual missions might entail.

This also means that the deployment will definitely be temporary. Yesterday, the Pentagon’s Press Secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby, confirmed this by saying that he did not expect the new elements to remain in Uganda for long. However, there is the possibility that rotations from Djibouti to Uganda could become a more regular occurrence.

AFRICOM has had some experience with this recently. It is likely that the CV-22Bs involved in the aborted rescue attempt in South Sudan last December came from the same contingent in Djibouti as the aircraft going to Uganda now. Marines from Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response also forward deployed to Djibouti and then sent elements further on to Uganda at the beginning of this year, also in response to the crisis in South Sudan. Whatever happens, the Ospreys appear to be proving their worth and we are likely to see them used more and more in the near future, both in the Middle East and Africa.

You can also read about this in a piece I wrote for War is Boring.

International Force Will Deploy to South Sudan

Yesterday, East African heads of state announced their decision to deploy an international force to South Sudan starting April in an attempt to stem the conflict there. Troops will reportedly come from Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Rwanda, all of whom are frequent particpiants in other African peacekeeping operations. Djibouti, which also participates in peacekeeping operations on the continent, may also contribute forces to this new mission. Ugandan troops, who intervened on behalf of the South Sudanese government in January, have said they will withdraw after the new force is deployed.

A map showing internally displaced persons in South Sudan and refugees in neighboring countries, from the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs South Sudan Crisis Situation Report No. 26, dated 10 March 2014

A map showing internally displaced persons in South Sudan and refugees in neighboring countries, from the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs South Sudan Crisis Situation Report No. 26, dated 10 March 2014

The force will operate under a mandate from the the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an East African economic bloc, which has been mediating talks in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa to try and bring an end to South Sudan’s crisis. The crisis erupted last December following a reported coup attempt. The government subsequently implicated a number of opposition political figures, most notably Riek Machar, as having been behind the attempted overthrow. Riek Machar announced a formal “resistance movement” in February and the country is effectively in a state of civil war.

The IGAD-sponsored talks did produce a ceasefire agreement in January, but this has been repeatedly violated. A second phase of talks to find a lasting political solution to the crisis has stalled. One of the main rebel demands is the release of individuals detained in connection with the coup. South Sudan is proceeding with their treason charges against eleven individuals, and a court has demanded that four individuals previously released and deported to Kenya return to face the indictments.

South Sudan has also accused the UN mission in the country, UNMISS, of collaborating with rebel forces. Last week, South Sudanese forces seized weapons and ammunition from a UN convoy, which UNMISS said had mistakenly been loaded in with humanitarian supplies. UNMISS also denied that landmines were among the munitions and has called on the South Sudanese government to respect their personnel and existing agreements. UNMISS is providing humanitarian assistance and shelter to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons. The UN also estimates that millions in the country are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Regional Bloc Looks at Sending Peacekeepers to South Sudan as Violence Continues

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the East African economic bloc that has been hosting peace talks over South Sudan, said today that its members were prepared to send forces to to the country to stabilize the situation. This comes as peace talks were put on hold yesterday, after the parties failed to make any progress on a lasting settlement to the country’s crisis. IGAD hopes the talks will resume later this month.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 14 February 2014

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 14 February 2014

It is not clear which IGAD members would be offering to deploy troops. Uganda, which is a member of the organization, already deployed troops to the country. Those forces, however, were sent to support the government rather than act as an independent force. The Ugandan intervention became a major point of contention between parties in South Sudan, as well as among IGAD members. Last Month, Uganda announced that it would begin a phased withdrawal of its forces in April, with the understanding being that they would be replaced by other forces, hopefully with an African Union or United Nations mandate, or both. IGAD is reportedly consulting with both the AU and the UN about the details of its proposed force.

Members of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force - Crisis Response board a KC-130J at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, as they prepare to return to their base in Spain on 1 March 2014.

Members of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response board a KC-130J at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, as they prepare to return to their base in Spain on 1 March 2014. SPMAGTF-CR had been forward deployed to Djibouti to be able to better respond to the crisis in South Sudan.

At this point, it does appear that there is a need for an independent international force in South Sudan. Despite the ongoing talks and a ceasefire agreement in January, violence in South Sudan has continued, as government forces and rebels jockey for control of important cities. The crisis may have stabilized to a degree, however, as the US has begun removing military forces it had deployed to help evacuate American citizens and protect diplomatic facilities. It is also possible that with the end of the evacuations and the relocation of certain diplomatic functions outside the country, that there is just no further reason for them being forward deployed in the region. The latter is perhaps more likely given reports of fighting in the capital.

There have been reports of atrocities on both sides after violence erupted last December following a reported coup attempt. Government negotiators and opposition representatives have accused each other of preventing peace talks, being held in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, from moving forward. The major stumbling blocks surround the future of the country’s current leadership, the continued detention of individuals accused of attempting to overthrow the government, and the charges brought against opposition political figures, who have since gone into hiding.

The continued crisis has had serious humanitarian impacts as well. The UN estimates that over seven hundred thousand have been displaced internally by the fighting, and that over a hundred thousand have fled to neighboring countries. The UN also believes that over three million people inside the country are in need of humanitarian assistance. The crisis has made it hard for international organizations to conduct independent assessments, however. The UN has had difficulty securing funding from its members and there has been evidence of diversion of aid to combatants, as well. The UN has also largely refrained from estimating how many people might have been killed since December.

More Ceasefire Violations in South Sudan

South Sudanese forces and rebels clashed in Upper Nile state yesterday, with both sides claiming control of the state capital Malakal today.  The fighting was said to be the most significant violation of a ceasefire agreement, signed by government and rebel representatives in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, since that agreement came into force at the end of January.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 14 February 2014

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 14 February 2014

The fighting comes as the delegations in Addis Ababa attempt to iron out the second phase of a peace process.  This has been complicated by numerous factors, including legal proceedings against some members of the opposition movement, opposition leader Riek Machar’s announcement of open resistance to the government, and an intervention by Ugandan troops on behalf of the South Sudanese government.

The matter of Ugandan troops has been particularly troublesome for the peace process.  The peace talks in Addis Ababa are sponsored by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), of which Uganda is a member.  South Sudan is also Uganda’s primary export market.  Other IGAD members, as well as international actors like the United States, have called on Ugandan forces to withdraw from the conflict.  However, it is possible to suggest that the intervention may have been key in stabilizing the situation and pushing the rebel delegation to negotiate.  Given the current status of the ceasefire agreement, that may be a moot point.

Whatever the case, Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kuteesa announced yesterday that there would be a phased withdrawal of Ugandan forces, starting in April, ahead of the deployment of an African-led peacekeeping force to the country. However, the exact timeline for the deployment of that force, the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC), may be delayed.  ACIRC is currently in its formative stages.  When it is fully operational, ACIRC is to provide the African Union with a force capable of rapidly responding to crises across the continent.

Perhaps more worrisome is that the fighting in Malakal, which took place near a facility operated by the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), reportedly touched off a riot inside the facility between internally displaced persons of different ethnic groups.  Since the conflict began last December, tens of thousands of those fleeing the violence have sought shelter in and around UNMISS facilities.  These facilities have subsequently been the target of violence and suspicion.

The UN estimates that over seven hundred thousands individuals are displaced internally and that over one hundred and fifty thousand have fled to neighboring countries.  A significant portion of the population is also in need of humanitarian assistance.  The UN’s Crisis Response Plan is only 18.5 percent funded, however.  The UN continues to appeal for greater international engagement.

South Sudan Talks Resume, Remain in Doubt

The second phase of talks between the government of South Sudan and rebels in that country began today in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa.  Ethiopia had hosted the first phase of talks, sponsored by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which led to a ceasefire agreement last month.  There have been numerous reports that the ceasefire has been violated since that time and rebels threatened to boycott the second phase of the talks.

Map showing internally displaced persons per state in South Sudan, from the OCHA Humanitarian Snapshot for South Sudan, dated 7 February 2014

Map showing internally displaced persons per state in South Sudan, from the OCHA Humanitarian Snapshot for South Sudan, dated 7 February 2014

Despite the rebels subsequently agreeing to participate, it is very debatable what the talks could hope to achieve under the current circumstances.  Since the ceasefire agreement a number of significant events have occurred.  Firstly, the South Sudanese government released some, but not all, of those detained following a reported coup attempt in December that touched off the current crisis.  This remains a major demand of the opposition and their delegation.  It is a demand supported by some members of IGAD, notably Kenya, where the detainees who were released were promptly deported. Some members of the international community have also supported this demand, including the United States.

Secondly, Uganda has officially confirmed its intervention on behalf of the South Sudanese government.  Uganda, an important IGAD member, has caused division within the bloc.  Ethiopia, the host of the talks, demanded yesterday that Uganda and any other foreign power withdraw from the country.  The US has also called for a withdrawal of foreign forces. It appears that these demands do not reference international peacekeepers deployed to the country as part of the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS).  South Sudan will likely be reluctant to agree to the departure of Ugandan forces without concessions though.  Their intervention can be seen as having stabilized the situation and prevented rebels from overrunning government forces.

Lastly, at the beginning of this month, Riek Machar, the defacto leader of the rebellion, officially announced that he had formed a resistance movement.  Machar has said that the confusingly titled Sudan People’s Liberation Movement / Sudan People’s Liberation Army will seek to unify various militias into a common front.  South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has accused Machar of being behind the coup attempt, which Machar has consistently denied.  Machar, however, has embraced his position as head of the opposition.  Late yesterday, President Kiir announced that Machar, as well as some of his political allies, had been formally removed from the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement political party.  Also removed was Taban Deng, who signed the ceasefire agreement in Ethiopia last month on behalf of the rebels.  Both Machar and Deng are currently wanted by the government on charges of treason relating to the coup attempt.

The goal of the second phase of the peace talks is to come to an agreement on a political solution to the crisis.  Given all of these factors, it seems unlikely that a clear mutually agreeable political solution will make itself obvious to the negotiators.  While many of the opposition demands are supported by the international community, the situation in South Sudan has largely stabilized in favor of the government, though the situation remains fragile.  The UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous said today that South Sudan faced a “very long, complex process.”  Almost nine-hundred thousand people have been displaced in the crisis.  A lack of access has made determining the number of fatalities difficult.  The UN estimates that more than three million people in the country are threatened by food insecurity.

Riek Machar Goes from Opposition to “Resistance”

Yesterday, former South Sudanese Vice President and defacto leader of anti-government rebels Riek Machar announced the formation of a group he said would focus on “resistance” to the current government.  Machar says the new group, somewhat confusingly titled the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement / Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLM/SPLA; the country’s ruling party is also called the SPLM and its national army is called the SPLA), serves to organize various existing rebel forces in the country against the current regime. Machar specifically mentioned rebels fighting in Upper Nile, Unity, and Jonglei states as having joined his movement, along with those in “Equatoria.”  South Sudan’s southern region is broken up into Western, Central, and Eastern Equatoria states, and it is unclear which Machar was referring to.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 4 January 2014

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 4 January 2014

Machar made the announcement from an undisclosed location.  He is currently wanted by the government on charges stemming from a reported coup attempt last year.  South Sudanese authorities say that Machar was behind the coup, which Machar denies.  He claims the government of President Salva Kiir is engaged in a crackdown on dissenting voices and has been fomenting ethnic unrest to hide the political nature of the dispute.  In announcing the SPLM/SPLA, Machar also called on the eleven individuals detained following the coup attempt to join his movement.  Seven of those individuals have since been released and were deported to neighboring Kenya, as part of an apparent deal brokered by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional economic bloc.  The remaining individuals have been charged with treason.

The formation of the SPLM/SPLA is the latest in a series of events that calls into question the viability of a ceasefire agreement, which was facilitated by IGAD last month, as well as near term hopes for peace and reconciliation.  Though the ceasefire did not immediately come into force once signed, there have been accusations of continued violence by both rebels and South Sudanese security forces, as well as reports of looting and misappropriation of humanitarian aid. There is also the matter of the remaining detainees and an intervention on behalf of the South Sudanese government by Uganda.  Rebels and IGAD members like Kenya continue to call for the release of the remaining individuals detained following the coup attempt.  South Sudan has refused to release them, and has also brought charges against those not in its custody, including Machar and Taban Deng.  Taban Deng signed the IGAD-brokered ceasefire agreement on behalf of the rebels.  Uganda, a member of IGAD, has also refused to pull out its troops.

The fighting in South Sudan has displaced over a half a million people, over eighty-five thousand of which are sheltering in or around facilities run by the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS).  Limited access has made accounting for those killed or wounded in the fighting difficult for outside observers to independently establish.

South Sudan Makes Moves on Detainees

Today there have been reports of two important developments on the matter of individuals detained followed a reported coup in South Sudan this past December.  Seven of the eleven individuals arrested, who have come to be known as the “Garang Boys” for their connection to national hero John Garang, were released and deported to Kenya.  South Sudan, however, said it would proceed with a trial against the remaining four individuals, along with three others not currently in custody.  Notably among those individuals is former Vice President Riek Machar.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 4 January 2014

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 4 January 2014

Machar, who has become the defacto leadership figure for the rebellion that has followed the coup attempt and arrest of the Garang Boys, had said that the release of all of the detainees was required for negotiations on a peaceful resoltuion of the current crisis.  This was echoed by the delegation representing the rebels at talks held in Ethiopia, arranged by the east African economic organization, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).  Some IGAD members have also called for the release of the detainees, a demand which the South Sudanese government has staunchly refused to acquiesce to.  Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, who appeared with the detainees sent to his country, said he and other regional leaders would continue to press for the release of the rest of the detainees.

Peace and reconciliation may continue to elude South Sudan with these announcements, however.  While both sides continue to say they are committed to the ceasefire agreed to at the IGAD sponsored talks, Taban Deng, the head of the delegation representing the rebels who signed that agreement on their behalf is among those sought for trial.  In addition to the continued pursuit of these treason charges, Ugandan forces, who intervened on behalf of the South Sudanese government, remain in the country.  Their presence has become a divisive issue, both among the parties to the conflict and among other east African leaders.  Uganda is a key member of IGAD.

All of this also comes as the United Nations reports almost half a million people to be displaced in the country, including almost eighty thousand sheltering in or around facilities operated by the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS).  The UN says it needs over $200 million to meet immediate humanitarian needs through March, but had only received a little over $100 million as of January 13th.  The UN has described the current situation in the country as “fragile.”