The U.S. military’s on-again, off-again hunt for Joseph Kony, the warlord of the cult-like Lord’s Resistance Army, is back on.
In 2011, the Pentagon upped its hunt for Kony—whose followers kidnap children—by sending armed commandos into Uganda, only to pause operations last year. Now the military has upped its hunt again by sending in sophisticated warplanes.
At least four CV-22B Osprey tiltrotors should arrive at Entebbe Interational Airport in Uganda by the end of the week, along with MC-130P and KC-135R tankers. The airport is the hub for U.S. operations against the LRA, codenamed Operation Observant Compass.
Kony and his men have terrorized Uganda and other countries in central Africa for decades. They emerge suddenly from the wilderness to kill people, mutilate women and kidnap children to serve as soldiers. Then they vanish back into the forest, making them difficult to stop or even find.
In battling this threat, Washington mostly stayed in the background, supplying intelligence and military aid to African Union forces tracking Kony and the LRA. But the A.U. asked for more help.
In October 2011, the Pentagon assumed a more active role in the campaign.
American commandos and private contractors now use helicopters and tiny transport planes to shuttle A.U. troops between Entebbe and airstrips in Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. They also fly small spy planes to look for Kony and his men.
The existing aircraft help a lot, but there are still problems. Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Robert Firman says LRA rebels generally flee after they are spotted.
The Ospreys—part airplane, part helicopter—are much faster than other planes currently available to African forces in the region. The plan is for A.U. troops to rush aboard the tiltrotors to suspected camp sites before the fighters disappear.
Learning to share
The U.S. military’s Africa Command wanted Ospreys to help fight the LRA months ago, but the unique planes are in high demand. The Air Force also hasn’t asked for any more CV-22s in its latest budget.
To get the planes into Uganda, U.S. Central Command—which oversees American military operations in the Middle East—stepped in to help. The Ospreys usually fly secretive missions for CENTCOM from the U.S. base in Djibouti.
Firman couldn’t tell us anything specific about what the Ospreys do in the Middle East. However, Djibouti is a hub for U.S. anti-terror operations in Yemen—under CENTCOM’s responsibility. Whatever the case, CENTCOM might want them back quickly. The Pentagon made it clear that the planes are only in Uganda temporarily.
But Firman said the two commands could share the aircraft. A possible arrangement could involve regularly sending Ospreys to Uganda for short periods of time, then back for Middle East duty, then back to Africa and so on.
The two commands have shared the aircraft before. Three CV-22s full of Navy SEALs attempted to rescue American civilians in South Sudan last December. However, the CV-22s took ground fire that wounded four SEALs and forced the military to abandon the mission.
The Ospreys are clearly an important tool in Africa and the Middle East. We can expect to see the U.S. military using them more and more in the near future—no matter what AFRICOM and CENTCOM decide.