KAMPALA, Uganda – African troops captured a junior commander with the Lord's Resistance Army and rescued 10 people, mostly children, abducted by the rebels, Uganda's military said Tuesday, the latest blow against the rebel group in an international hunt for its fugitive leaders.
The commander -- a rebel lieutenant known as Charles Okello -- was seized after a firefight in Central African Republic, where Uganda-led African Union troops are hunting down the rebels in vast jungle, said Ugandan military spokesman Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda. Up to 10 civilians, seven of them children, were rescued from the rebels, he said.
African troops are being assisted by United States military advisers in the search for LRA leaders. Last month the U.S. deployed more forces to assist in the hunt for warlord Joseph Kony and other rebel commanders, more than doubling the number of American forces on the ground to 250. The U.S. also sent four CV-22 Osprey aircraft, two C-130 transport planes and two KC-135 refueling aircraft to assist the mission against the LRA.
Although Okello was only a junior LRA commander, his seizure maintains pressure on a rebel group that at its peak terrorized whole villages and abducted many children who then became sex slaves or fighters. In February, Uganda's military said rebel commander Okot Odhiambo -- who was the LRA's No.2 commander behind Kony -- likely died of his wounds after an attack late last year in Central African Republic.
The LRA originated in Uganda in the 1980s as a tribal uprising against the government. In 2005 Kony became the first suspect to be indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed over many years. After the LRA was ousted from Ugandan territory in 2005, the group scattered into parts of Congo and Central African Republic.
Fewer than 500 rebels are still active in the jungle, according to the Ugandan military, and the watchdog group Enough Project says the LRA is now weaker than ever, with its leaders having to focus on staying alive amid an intensified manhunt by African troops and their U.S. allies.
Kony became well known to the international community in 2012 when a U.S.-based advocacy group, Invisible Children, produced a widely viewed video that described atrocities committed by the LRA. Despite an intensified hunt for LRA leaders, Kony remains elusive and is believed to be constantly on the move across central Africa.