UGANDAN KONY-HUNTING SOLDIERS FACE JUNGLE THREATS

UPDF tracker squad trekking through the jungles of the Central African Republic

UPDF tracker squad trekking through the jungles of the Central African Republic

Sunday, April 22, 2012
By RODNEY MUHUMUZA
~ The Associated Press
RIVER VOVODO, Central African Republic

For Ugandan soldiers tasked with catching Joseph Kony, the real threat is not the elusive Central Africa warlord and his brutal gang. Encounters with the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels are so rare that Kony hunters worry more about the threats of the jungle: Armed poachers,wild beasts, honey bees and even a fly that torments their ears. A soldier crossing the Chinko river in the Central African Republic on Wednesday was drowned and mauled by a crocodile,spreading terror among hundreds of soldiers who must camp near streams because they need water to cook food.

“A crocodile has just taken one of my men,” said Col. Joseph Balikuddembe, the top Ugandan commander of the anti-Kony force. He contorted his face, walked to a map and pointed to Chinko, one of several rivers that the Kony hunters have been stalking in hopes that the LRA might be there looking for water.

But it is dry season these days, and the rivers are teeming with hungry crocodiles. This week’s crocodile attack was the second in two months, highlighting the perils of trying to catch a rebel leader about whom so little is known and who could be anywhere in this vast Central Africa jungle. There have been no signs of Kony in a long time, and the soldiers whose goal it is to catch him are in fact more likely to be killed by elephants and snakes whose paths they cross. Even honey bees can be a serious menace when they are migrating.

Soldiers told an Associated Press reporter who traveled with them through the jungles about a tiny black fly that persistently hovers around and even enters their ears, reducing their capacity for concentration. The soldiers can be seen shaking their heads violently, or desperately slapping their ears, but the flies keep coming in huge numbers. The soldiers look forward to night, when the flies go away. A crocodile attack last month on the banks of the Vovodo River left a soldier with injuries all over his body. He was later taken into intensive care in a Ugandan hospital.

“The man just survived that crocodile,” Balikuddembe said. “It grabbed his leg and he poked it in the eyes. Then it left him, and as he ran away it came for his arm, then his buttocks.” Most Ugandan soldiers here remain hopeful that Kony, who last month became the focus of international attention after a U.S. advocacy group made a successful online video seeking to popularize his crimes, can still be caught despite the challenges. Invisible Children’s campaign wants 2012 to be the year Kony is caught, and the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor has said he thinks Kony will be arrested soon.

Foot soldiers involved in the manhunt say much the same thing. They hope. Their optimism hinges on the vast amount of time and energy they’ve spent looking for Kony that it would be self-defeating to give up now. So every day they patrol the jungle for several hours, even if they have spent months without encountering anyone who remotely resembles the enemy.

Sometimes they come across suspicious footprints, but it is impossible to tell if they are the LRA’s or those of a cattle-keeping tribe called the Ambororo.”Who says it is easy to catch Kony? Let me tell you, Kony is not a grasshopper that’s there waiting to be caught,” said a Ugandan soldier, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to a reporter.

On a search through the jungle Thursday, some 60 Ugandan soldiers walked 10 miles without meeting a single person. The soldiers had hoped to find at least a pond at their final destination, but they found none and had to harvest stagnant water between rocks to prepare food. At such times, the last thing on their minds is Kony. Carrying their rations and arms on their backs, the soldiers moved through seemingly impenetrable forests, in which they have to cut down some trees and shrubs to make way. They then emerge to dry plains where the sun mercilessly beats down on them.

Kony, who has waged a decades-long campaign of murder and the abduction of children without espousing any political ideology, in 2005 became the first person to be indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The warlord then attempted to negotiate peace with the Ugandan government, but in the end refused to sign the final peace agreement over concerns his security would not be guaranteed if he left the bush. He has since navigated the region’s porous borders, moving first to a forested national park in eastern Congo, where in December 2008 an aerial raid backed by American intelligence proved too late, and later to the Central African Republic.

Last year President Barack Obama sent about 100 U.S. forces to help regional governments eliminate the LRA once and for all. There are American soldiers in the four African countries that have been terrorized by the LRA over the years: Uganda, South Sudan, Congo and the Central African Republic. Nzara,in South Sudan, is the “hub” of the entire military operation against Kony, and there are operational bases deep inside the Central African Republic in Djema and Obo.

American troops stationed in South Sudan and the Central African Republic declined the opportunity to discuss their experience. Capt. Layne, who spoke for the rest of the group in Nzara, said they were under strict instructions not to talk to reporters, and even politely declined to give his first name. Ugandan officials said the Americans have been helping with logistics and surveillance. They are not involved in the physical tracking of Kony, leaving some Ugandan soldiers to wonder why the Americans are here at all.

“Victory for us would be when we get Kony himself, (Okot) Odhiambo, Dominic Ongwen and other senior LRA commanders,” Ugandan military commander Balikuddembe said. “Since there is no front line, it is hunting.” Ugandan troops last encountered the LRA on March 8, when they engaged in a fight with about 30 rebels and injured one of them. That prisoner, and others captured or rescued before him, shared the kind of human intelligence that the Ugandan military depends on in the hunt for Kony. Ugandan officials now know that Kony’s forces are vastly degraded and unable to stage large-scale attacks,even if they have continued to attack civilians and conduct abductions in the Congo.

Kony-hunters now know that the rebels move in very small groups and are always on the run. They also know that technology can only go so far in catching a rebel leader who now eschews it, instead using couriers to send out his messages. But the officials do not really know where Kony is, and some rank-and-file soldiers suspect he may be as far away as the Sudanese region of Darfur.

“If we knew where Kony was exactly, we would have caught him,” said Ugandan Pvt. Godfrey Asiimwe. “They give us coordinates for where the suspected enemy is, but by the time we get there he’s already gone.”

© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press

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13 Responses to UGANDAN KONY-HUNTING SOLDIERS FACE JUNGLE THREATS

  1. beegeagle says:

    RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE AS UGANDAN ARMY HUNTS KONY

    By Max Delany (AFP)
    21 April,2012

    Sweat dripping from his unkempt beard,second lieutenant Kasim Lukumo halted briefly to point at the thick tangle of the central African jungle.

    “See how difficult it can be to find someone here if they want to hide from you,” Lukumo told AFP, as he adjusted the straps of his 30-kilo pack and the automatic rifle slung across his chest. “You can’t see more than just some few metres around and in front of you –sometimes you can’t see someone even when they are near.”

    If there is a frontline in the hunt for Joseph Kony and his rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, then Lukumo and the sixty other soldiers in 77-Juliet squad are on it.

    The unit is one of several dozen Ugandan army hunting squads — backed up since late last year by 100 American special forces troops — searching for any traces of the brutal rebel group in an
    inhospitable 400-kilometre stretch in the far eastern corner of the Central African Republic.

    For the past two months, 77-Juliet have trekked almost a thousand kilometres across an unpopulated wedge of land between two rivers — dense streches of jungle alternating with open patches of sun-scorched rocks — where the Ugandan military believe Kony and his top commanders are hiding out.

    Waking before dawn each morning they pack up last night’s camp before receiving the coordinates for that day’s march from intelligence officers at the nearest base a 100 kilometres away. They usually face a march of some 20 kilometres (12 miles). The plan is to use the squads to constantly harry the rebels, who have splintered into small groups, denying them breathing space to regroup and resupply. And the Ugandan army says those tactics are paying off.

    “The man is weak — he is feeling pressure and in a bad condition because he has no supplies, no food,” captain Daud Muhamad, the commander of 77-Juliet, told AFP. He leaned against a towering tique tree, swatting away at the swarm of tiny flies buzzing ceaselessly around his head. Infamous for mutilating their victims and abducting children to use as sex slaves and porters, the LRA have terrorised the region for over two decades.

    Last month a video calling for the arrest of Kony, a former altar boy who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, became an unlikely Internet sensation. The Kony2012 film — made by US advocacy group Invisible Children — was watched by over 100 million people and the group has urged supporters around the world to put up posters of Kony in their cities this Friday night.

    Now the Ugandan army says the rebels in this area number just 120 fighters — with another 100 women and abducted
    children. They have stopped attacking local communities and survive by feeding on wild yams or whatever animals and fish they can catch, the army says. But after more than 25 years waging a brutal insurgency, the LRA remain masters of evasion.

    “They have been told not to fight with us and that if they see us they should just run away — they are difficult to catch,” said Muhamad. He has been part of the Ugandan operation chasing the LRA across three countries since the country’s air force bombed the rebels’ camps in Congo over three years ago.

    Since the start of the year small groups
    remaining close to the border with Congo– where the Ugandan army does not have permission to operate — have started attacking civilians again, prompting fears that the rebels could try to push south to Congo.

    Recently the African Union announced it had set up a 5,000-strong force to combat the LRA and improve coordination between regional armies, but there is no evidence of the much-heralded taskforce on the ground.

    The Ugandan operation got a boost late last year from the world’s most powerful military when 100 US special forces deployed to the region following a directive from President Barack Obama. In the forward base at Djema, roughly 150 kilometres from the border with South Sudan, a clean-cut captain makes brief small talk about local beer. But he refuses to answer any questions about the work the US troops are doing.

    Beyond that they are just seven names signed in the base’s guest book. US officials have said that the troops –most of whom are based in Uganda — will help bolster the Ugandan forces where they need help most–intelligence gathering and coordination and logistics.

    So far, the soldiers in 77-Juliet say none of the US troops have been out in the bush with them. But they communicate regularly with surveillance planes they say are flown –sometimes at night — by Americans and have seen their supplies and morale boosted in recent months.

    Joseph Balikudembe, the overall commander of the Ugandan operation, said the US deployment “added value” to the current operation. He hoped the mix of a weakened LRA, US intelligence and the Ugandan hunting squads on the ground could shift the balance definitively. “This combination can definitely help us weaken and hopefully eliminate the LRA– we have to keep on working together to push on and end the threat,” Balikudembe said at the main Ugandan operational base at Nzara in South Sudan.

    But while the US troops may help bolster the hunt, it is down to the Ugandan squads — slogging their way through perilous jungle rivers and crawling through vines — to hunt the LRA on the ground, sometimes at a heavy price.

    On Wednesday a Ugandan soldier died
    after he was attacked by a crocodile, just weeks after a member of 77-Juliet was seriously wounded as he crossed a river. The death was the second of a Ugandan soldier hunting the LRA this year, after another one was killed in a shootout with rebels.

    Copyright © 2012 AFP. All rights reserved.

  2. Spirit says:

    I’ve watched the videos and read about the atrocities that Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army has committed over the past 3 decades. It’s barbaric even in African war standard. Kony is not human, he is a monster and he should be hunted down and killed as such.

  3. peccavi says:

    Poor bloody Infantry. Keep up the good work

  4. beegeagle says:

    I quite understand the fact that these tracking units have to do most of the work on foot. That is what tracking entails but I hope M7 pays attention to their welfare as well. Get in more infantrymen to reduce the damn workload on these useful chaps and give them all that it takes. Sometimes, I hear about AMISOM troops not getting paid for months and it makes me wonder why that is the case. I have even read about “thatch hut barracks” in Uganda and that cannot be allowed to pass for these troops who try to do their best for regional security.

    From that same place where he seized funds to acquire Sukhoi jets, let him dip his hands back in and improve the welfare conditions of his troops. I would love to see Kevlar helmets with lights on them and flak jackets on these guys. Perhaps the rainboots have to do with the soggy, marshy terrain in equatorial Africa. The Rwandese and Ugandans and their proxy rebel forces similarly used these rainboots a lot in the Congo. That is why I am trying to believe that it is a function of the terrain. He cannot be trying to cut costs by shutting out boots.

    That said, well done UPDF and best of luck. They have over the years proven to be one of the more useful fighting armies – not parade ground armies – in Africa which serve the interests of their nation tenaciously. In much the same way as the battle-hardened Nigerian Army have consistently been in combat operations since 1990 in Liberia, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, the Niger Delta and Northern Nigeria, so have the battle-savvy UPDF been fighting simultaneously in Uganda, DR Congo, Sudan, Somalia and now the CAR.

  5. beegeagle says:

    UPDF: KONY HUNTERS INSIDE THE C.A.R

    UPDF troops in C.A.R

    UPDF troops in the C.A.R

    UPDF troops in the C.A.R

    UPDF-AF troops and Mi-17 in the C.A.R

    UPDF troops and Mi-17 in the C.A.R

    • peccavi says:

      The UPDF wellington boot thing is a strange one, the story is that when Museveni came to power he wanted to ensure all his troops were kitted out locally and the only factory in Uganda making boots made wellington boots so thats how it came about (allegedly)
      To be honest as an infantryman I can understand why they aren’t wearing kevlars or body armour, the jungle is hot, humid and utterly horrible to operate in, in addition to normal stuff, they will be getting heat rashes, nappy rash (yes seruiously) leeches, heat exhaustion etc. If possible they will be carrying helmets and lightweight body armour in thier packs but if they dont I kind of understand.

      I like the firepower in that section as well a GPMG and a 40mm grenade launcher, gives them good killing power

  6. beegeagle says:

    How about the fact that the LRA can be expected to engage them without warning and at anytime? A perforated rib cage, a blown-out skull? Worth the risk.

    • peccavi says:

      The trade off is that they will be quicker and can react faster. Body armour really drains you particularly in hot climates.
      Bear in mind the SADF/ Rhodesians didn’t use body armour in the bush yet took relatively light casualties.
      Its the old mobility/ protection trade off

      • beegeagle says:

        Dis we Peccavi sef(lol)! You na gambler? Trade off again? We have already traded off the mine and blast protection of MRAPs for the speed of 4WD trucks!

  7. boss joe says:

    Kinda off topic, but just want to bring up the old AK47 argument, this is the kind of terrain, where AK47 are to be used, i bet you the American spec. forces, are probably trying to stock up on some
    AK47′s.

  8. peccavi says:

    AK is my weapon of choice in almost all situations to be honest, as this thread has shown I’m a lazy man! I like a weapon that is simple and light. However for jungle another excellent weapon is the shotgun, because of the terrain troops are generally tightly packed and most engagements are under 50m, meaning a shot gun blast can do quite a bit of damage.
    @ Oga Beeg: me I believe in speed oh, the ability to outmanouvre your enemy should never be underrated. However I’ll let you know which one I prefer next time I hear an incoming shell!

  9. ocelot2006 says:

    I see a mix of AK-47s and a Type 56-2 rifle. Not bad. Kudos to the UPDF. And I hope they bring that beast Kony to justice.

  10. beegeagle says:

    I listened to a news report on one of the international broadcast organs yesterday morning and it is strange that with all the exertions and suffering on the part of these UPDF troops, the foreign journalist only found it fit to dwell on the presence of 100 US Special Forces personnel who, to his own admission, are doing none of the gruelling stuff. Not even one of the UPDF was mentioned, let alone being interviewed.

    For me, it was deja vu, as it reminded me of the scant coverage given to the heroic efforts of ECOMOG troops in battle. Africans need to tell their own story – one reason why Beegeagle’s Blog exists.

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