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US troops synch hi-tech and nomad intel in Kony hunt

Joseph Kony.
Joseph Kony.
Joseph Kony.

In a bare concrete room in a far-flung corner of Central African Republic, US special forces and Ugandan soldiers map out the hunt for one of Africa's most wanted rebel leaders hiding in an area the size of California.

The building belonged to the town of Obo's doctor until he was murdered last year by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) while transporting medicines by road. Now it serves as an operational centre in one of America's latest military ventures in Africa.

The mission's goal is clear.

"(The) focus is the removal of Joseph Kony and senior Lord's Resistance Army leadership from the battlefield," said Captain Ken Wright, a navy SEAL in command of the roughly 100-strong force which deployed in October.

Kony has evaded the region's militaries for nearly three decades, kidnapping tens of thousands of children to fill his militia's ranks and serve as sex slaves as he moves through the bush. Thousands more have died in the wake of his brutal army.

The deployment of elite American forces to help track Kony and his senior commanders in the dense equatorial jungle across a region that spans several countries has raised hopes the sadistic warlord's days are numbered.

The troops are armed but do not patrol the surrounding forests and are allowed to engage the LRA only in self-defence.

Instead, their focus is on improving intelligence on LRA positions gathered both electronically and from tip-offs.

By meshing stories from hunters and nomadic cattle herders of encounters with the rebels together with sophisticated surveillance imagery, allied forces chart suspected rebel activity and coordinate the regional armies' pursuit of Kony.

"You look at patterns to see where LRA might be moving, historic areas where they might operate, so we can predict where they're going and try and head them off and most effectively use the forces on the ground," Captain Gregory, a 29-year-old Texan hidden behind sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat told Reuters.

For many of the U.S. troops who have recently served in Afghanistan and Iraq, the humid jungles of central Africa are unfamiliar territory.

Their deployment raised expectations locally that U.S. drones would be unearthing Kony. They are not, and this hostile environment is throwing up unforeseen challenges.

"Some of the gear we have here is affected by the vegetation ... and acts differently from in the desert. "Vegetation absorbs signals and sounds," said Gregory.

Kony, a self-styled mystic leader who at one time was bent on ruling Uganda by the ten commandments, fled his native northern Uganda in 2005, roaming first the lawless expanses of South Sudan and then the isolated northeastern tip of Congo.

In December 2008, after last-ditch peace talks failed, Ugandan paratroopers and fighter jets struck the LRA's Congo hideouts. Kony slipped through the net, raising suspicions he had been tipped off. He and many of his combatants moved north into CAR.

Kony was thrust back into the spotlight earlier this year when a video, "Kony 2012", highlighting the chilling mutilations, rapes and murders carried out by his spell-bound fighters went viral on the Internet.

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Tags:  us  troops  kony  nomad  intel  





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