The Lord’s Resistance Army is a Ugandan rebel group currently operating in the border region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR), and South Sudan. Joseph Kony established the LRA in 1988 with the claim of restoring the honor of his ethnic Acholi people and to install a government based on his personal version of the Ten Commandments. Kony claims to channel various spirits who direct him to oust Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni; however, under Kony’s leadership, LRA soldiers conduct violence for the sake of violence, primarily against civilians, rather than fighting to advance a political agenda.
The LRA has its roots in the conflict between the Acholi tribe of northern Uganda and other tribes in southern Uganda that began during Idi Amin Dada’s regime (1971-1979). Power changed hands between two equally ruthless Acholi leaders after Idi Amin was overthrown, but the Acholi were forced to flee back to the north when Museveni seized power in 1986. Alienated Acholi troops subsequently formed a less extreme Holy Spirit movement to counter the Ugandan government. However, following their defeat in 1988, a more violent movement—the LRA— emerged under Kony. LRA soldiers quickly gained a reputation for murder, torture, rape, and mutilations aimed primarily at Acholi communities, as well as abducting tens of thousands of children over the years to use as sex slaves and child soldiers.
In 2008, following Kony’s refusal to sign a negotiated peace agreement, Ugandan, DRC, and southern Sudanese armies launched a joint military offensive, “Operation Lightning Thunder,” against the LRA in northeastern Congo. As a result, the LRA broke up into smaller, more mobile groups and spread out in the border region, making them even more difficult to locate.
In May 2010 the US Congress passed the “Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act,” which follows the US State Department inclusion of the LRA on the Terrorist Exclusion List in 2001 and designation of Joseph Kony as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order 13324 in 2008. In October 2011 the United States sent a force of 100 soldiers—in an advisory role—to regional militaries aimed at removing Kony from the battlefield. In March 2014 the US announced it was sending additional soldiers and military aircraft to augment the hunt for Kony.
In January 2015 Dominic Ongwen, an LRA general wanted for war crimes, was apprehended by US forces and is awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Ongwen is one of five commanders, including Kony, indicted by the ICC in 2005. Kony’s whereabouts are unknown, although he is believed to be hiding in Kafia Kingi, a Sudanese-controlled enclave on the border of the CAR and South Sudan. Kony is also believed to be in poor health. Defectors from the LRA have reported that Kony has diabetes, while it has also been alleged the warlord has AIDS.
The LRA is now thought to number between 200 and 300 fighters. In recent years the group has carried out attacks in the DRC, South Sudan, and the CAR. Although the group is reportedly in decline, the LRA abducted 121 people and killed at least three others between April and June 2015, according to the UN.