Operation Lightning Thunder did not end the threat of the Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA, and it sparked harsh reprisals by the LRA against civilians in Congo. Yet, it would be an even greater tragedy for civilians if key states in the region and the international community lost their collective will to end the threat of the LRA once and for all. What is needed now is a second Ugandan-led operation against the LRA. This new operation must place civilian protection front and center.
Excerpt: In the months since the armies of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and southern Sudan launched Operation Lightning Thunder, a joint military offensive against the Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA, the threat to civilians in the region has dramatically intensified. Efforts to negotiate a political solution with the LRA ran aground in late 2008, and prospects for a peaceful end to the conflict are nonexistent as long as LRA leader Joseph Kony refuses to sign the deal that remains on the table. Unless Joseph Kony and the LRA's other top commanders are apprehended or otherwise removed, the group's campaign of terror will continue.
Cooperation between Uganda, Congo, and southern Sudan in addressing the LRA as a shared regional threat is a major breakthrough, and should be welcomed by the international community. However, due primarily to domestic political pressures and concerns about the lengthy presence of a foreign military on his soil, Congolese President Joseph Kabila recently requested the withdrawal of the Ugandan army from northeastern Congo-the primary locus of the LRA's current predations and regional efforts to end them. Many Ugandan troops, however, have stayed in Congo and continue to conduct "intelligence operations" against the LRA. Some low-scale fighting between the remaining Ugandan troops and the LRA has been reported, but these largely below-the-radar efforts are likely insufficient to corner the LRA leadership.