U.S. Special Forces have ramped up their efforts to help track and locate notorious African warlord Joseph Kony in the nearly two years since an upstart NGO released a viral video campaign calling for his capture.
The troops have been on the ground in the Congo region for two years, simply assisting local troops across four countries in the region, but they recently have expanded their efforts to capture Kony, leader of the guerilla group the Lord’s Resistance Army. Their frontline efforts may be due to the recent KONY 2012 campaign by the California-based group Invisible Children.
“We are encouraged by the way that our work may have been a factor,” Ben Keesey, co-founder of Invisible Children, told FoxNews.com. “If you look at all the factors in bringing someone to justice, Joseph Kony and the LRA checks all the boxes.”
Kony, one of the world’s most infamous war criminals, has used his LRA to decimate villages across the Congo region and abducted and tortured young children, sometimes forcing them to be soldiers against their will. Since Kony’s exploits have been brought to the world's attention, there has been a 57% decrease in abductions.
Last month, the Special Forces led four dozen South Sudanese troops deep into the heart of the Congo to locate a crudely-erected LRA encampment. The assault was the first time the U.S. advisers provided support on the ground.
Kony is believed to be hiding in the lawless Central African Republic but U.S. soldiers have increased support to Ugandan troops seeking the war criminal and have increased training of South Sudanese and Congolese troops involved in the hunt.
Senior officials told the Washington Post in a recent report that the Pentagon has asked for White House approval to temporarily base Osprey aircraft in Uganda to allow both American and African troops to move quickly to assault Kony’s encampments.
“We’re at a new stage in this mission,” Col. Kevin Leahy, who commands the 100 Special Operations troops assisting in the efforts, told the newspaper. “All of the pieces are coming together, and we’re pushing on all fronts.”
Under rules imposed by the current administration, the Special Ops troops assisting in the pursuit are not allowed to conduct a unilateral mission, with their role limited to training and advising African troops. While being on the front lines is not a violation, in event of a battle, American troops must pull back and can only fire their weapons in self-defense.
The U.S. forces have formed an unconventional alliance with Invisible Children in the two years since the group launched its campaign to bring attention to Kony. They have also coordinated with two American philanthropists who are paying for tracking dogs to accompany the African forces. The ramped-up efforts have greatly narrowed the hunt for Kony.
“Back in March we thought that there might be a setback when the Central African Republic was overthrown by another warlord,” Keesey said. “But the U.N. and even Secretary (of State John) Kerry really worked hard to keep the coalition efforts together.”
It is believed that they are closing in on Kony's trail. He was driven out of Sudan, a long time safe-haven for the tyrant, and reports have suggested that he is losing his foothold on the Congo region as many LRA soldiers are defecting or surrendering.
“It’s hard to give a time frame to when he will be captured. While he no longer can hide in the Sudan, Kony still exploits some of the poorest regions on the planet,” Keesey said. “But it’s really an encouraging time where we can see more and more progress made towards his capture.”