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In a little-noticed move in October 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama sent 100 military advisers to Uganda, part of an effort to apprehend Joseph Kony, the ruthless head of the central African guerilla group the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). The once-obscure rebel leader, a fugitive since 2005, became a household name this March after a video about him produced by the advocacy group Invisible Children went viral. More than a year since U.S. advisers arrived in Uganda, and despite the unprecedented public awareness about the cult-like militia's crimes, Kony and his associates remain at large, and media coverage of the search has become nearly as hard to find as the fugitive himself.
The Kony manhunt is proving frustrating. Despite some small tactical successes, there has yet to be a single credible sighting of the fugitive, and LRA attacks in the region have only become more frequent. But it is too soon to get pessimistic and give up. Such operations are inherently difficult, and they take time. If U.S. and African forces refine their efforts to get locals to provide intelligence, and if Washington steps up its diplomatic efforts to eliminate potential LRA safe havens, they could well bring Kony and the rest of the LRA's leadership to justice.
Although Ugandan troops captured Kony's top military strategist in May and killed LRA fighters led by the militia's director of operations in August, the campaign has failed to meet the expectations generated by Obama's announcement and by Invisible Children's awareness campaign. Following the spectacular success of the raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden five months earlier, the deployment of U.S. Special Operations Forces to hunt Kony may have created unrealistic expectations. But as with the U.S. forces that helped indigenous forces catch the guerilla leader Che Guevara in Bolivia and the drug lord Pablo Escobar in Colombia, the U.S. military advisers in Uganda, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan are prohibited from conducting operations themselves. They can only guide those countries' militaries in the pursuit of the LRA, providing intelligence and communications support. In March, the African Union announced that it would deploy a 5,000-person multinational brigade to hunt down Kony, but less than half the number of troops pledged have actually arrived in the region, and those who have are poorly trained and equipped.