THE FIGHT AGAINST THE
LORD’S RESISTANCE ARMY IN AFRICA

SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)

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USA

Uganda

LRA

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Ugandan People’s Defense Forces on Patrol

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U.S. Military Deployments to Africa

The African state of Uganda has been in the headlines many times for violence, revolution and death. In January 1971, while President Obote was away on a state visit to Singapore, Idi Amin seized power in a military coup. In 1972, a group of Ugandan exiles launched a failed coup attempt against Amin. Amnesty International estimates that over 500,000 people died during Amin’s eight-year regime. On 27 June 1976, an Air France plane with 248 passengers was hijacked by two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The Ugandan government supported the hijackers, and Idi Amin welcomed them. On 4 July 1976, Israel Defense Forces landed at Entebbe Airport in Uganda and rescued the passengers and the rumor at the time was that Idi Amin was so furious that he killed the one captive he still had, a 74-year-old Israeli woman named Dora Bloch that had been taken to the hospital, and later ate parts of her. The story is surely untrue, but he was so cruel that many people believed it.

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President Obote

In April 1979, Amin was driven from Uganda and fled first to Libya and later to Saudi Arabia where died in 2003. Obote returned to Uganda and led another wave of terror where an estimated 300,000 people died. In 1986, the newspapers told of a holy woman in Uganda named Alice Lakwena that convinced her followers known as the Holy Spirit Movement that they were invincible and any bullet fired at them would turn to water. One would think that this belief would be easily disproved, but she lasted a year until 1987, when she was defeated and fled to Kenya where she died soon afterwards. Joseph Kony, started out in northern Uganda as a Catholic altar boy who spoke in tongues and then appeared on the scene, claimed to be related to Lakwena, declared himself to be a messianic prophet, and started to build his own movement. Kony proclaims himself the spokesperson of God and a spirit medium and claims he is visited by a multinational host of 13 spirits, including a Chinese phantom. Ideologically, the group is a mix of mysticism , Acholi nationalism, and Christian fundamentalism, and claims to be establishing a state based on the Ten Commandments and local Acholi tradition.

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Child Soldier

Kony has been accused by government entities of ordering the abduction of children to become child soldiers and sex slaves. 66,000 children became soldiers, and 2 million people were displaced internally from 1986 to 2009. Kony was indicted in 2005 for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands, but he has evaded capture.

Forest adds:

LRA fighters attacked poorly defended camps or villages, taking more captives (often children) to force into their ranks. In several cases, kidnapped children were forced to return to their homes and murder or mutilate members of their own family or tribe (cutting off lips was one of several signature LRA atrocities). These tactics served multiple purposes, such as fostering the “moral disengagement” process as well as ensuring the children would never be welcomed home should they try to escape.

Norman Okello told his story to The Telegraph on 28 August 2017. His abduction took place as he was sneaking back from the family rice field with his father. He was surrounded by LRA soldiers and asked if the man was his father. He lied and said “no,” because he knew if he said yes he would be forced to kill his father. He was taken by LRA and immediately beaten by four teenagers with sticks. He was told, “If you scream, we will kill you.” He was told he was unclean, but then they mixed shea oil and water and put the sign of the cross on his head, lips, hand and heart. He was now clean. Two months into his abduction, Norman was forced to kill. The victim looked 18 and was an LRA veteran of about four years who’d attempted escape. Along with the rest of the children, Norman took part in killing him, stabbing him with a bayonet:

When you kill for the first time, automatically, you change. Out of being innocent, you’ve now become guilty. You feel like you have become part of them, part of the rebels.

Kony is believed to be in the Central African Republic. Their forces are highly mobile, and it is difficult to know their exact whereabouts. Kony and other LRA leaders move on foot in small separate groups with their fighters and abductees through remote bush terrain between the borders of Congo, CAR, and South Sudan. They do not have permanent camps, avoid roads and often make great efforts to cover their tracks. The LRA leaders used to communicate by satellite phone and two-way radios but no longer do so for fear their locations will be identified through monitoring. Instead they send messages via runners, letters posted on trees or left under rocks, or occasional face-to-face meetings at pre-determined locations in isolated areas.

This story will be a short look at Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and those aligned against it.

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Joseph Kony, head of the Lord’s Resistance Army, arrives at a
clearing to take part in peace talks in southern Sudan on 1 August 2006.
Adam Pletts/Getty Images

My specialty is propaganda, and I have 150 articles on the Internet, but I never wrote about the PSYOP war against the Lord’s Resistance Army since the leaflets were relatively unknown until 2017 when the Pentagon apparently destroyed the leaflets and then put poorly focused images on the Internet. The story was told by Nick Turse in a story entitled “I asked the U.S. military for its leaflets about Joseph Kony. It sidestepped the request, and then burned them,” in The Intercept dated 24 August 2017.

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Four Pentagon blurred images of the anti-LRA leaflets

Although the images are not clear, it convinced me that I could probably make a short story out of the data that was available. The “blurred” leaflets will be found in several places along the length of this article. Turse says in part:

The Pentagon says that, since 2011, about $780 million has been spent to battle the LRA. Yet Kony was never captured or killed, and the LRA is still in the field with an estimated 150 to 250 fighters under arms, perhaps the same number of soldiers as when Operation Observant Compass began. The U.S. has nonetheless packed up shop and ended the effort.

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Joseph Kony is Dead

The “Joseph Kony Est Mort” leaflet was one of the many fliers created by U.S. soldiers specializing in Military Information Support Operations – formerly known as Psychological Operations – and was, according to Defense Department spokesperson Maj. Audricia Harris, set “for rapid release to remote parts of the Central African jungle” in the event Kony was ever killed.

While I had asked Special Operations Command to provide copies of those leaflets, what they instead sent to me were three pages with 94 tiny images — some partially redacted, all barely readable due to their size. When I asked again for the actual leaflets, or at least larger images, SOCOM’s FOIA office told me that despite a “comprehensive search of records, this is the only copy of the documents that could be located…

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A clear copy of the leaflet entitled “Hungry?”

Former fighter Opio Sam is shown eating pizza after escaping from the
rebels who only eat what they gather in the bush or steal from villagers.

The tiny, blurred images were nonetheless tantalizing – one leaflet reads “Hungry?” above a photo of a man leaning over a pizza pie. (Is a pizza margherita the preferred lure for Central African bush fighters?) Other leaflets seem to indicate the locations of U.S.-Ugandan military outposts. Some provide telephone numbers to use in the event, it seems, you spot the LRA: Text “1” or “LRA” to +236-724-17071. In May, weeks after SOCOM told me they couldn’t locate any of the fliers, I would open the New York Times to find a crisp, clear photo of the actual “Kony Est Mort” leaflet that I had previously seen only in microdot form.

When I inquired about the leaflets at the Pentagon, they had no problem identifying exactly where it had been located all along. The fliers were, Maj. Harris told me by email, “pre-positioned … at the temporary forward operating location in Obo, Central African Republic” – a remote U.S. outpost integral to the failed campaign against Kony. Once located, however, the leaflet was not sent along to me. According to Harris, it “was in the process of destruction by incineration when the New York Times reporter photographed it” earlier this year.

So, it seems that the Pentagon, for whatever reason, but perhaps motivated by the request for images, simply burned all the leaflets.

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Members of Kony's Lord's Resistance Army pictured in 2006 AP Photo

One of the main sources of data for this article is U.S. Military Deployments to Africa: Lessons from the Hunt for Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army, James J.F. Forest, Report 14-4, The JSOU Press, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, 2014. Of course, I used many other sources and personal comments from friends in the PSYOP community. Forest introduces the Lord’s Resistance Army in his report and I will use that data, although edited for brevity:

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) seems to have originated as a quasi-religious rebel group in Northern Uganda during the mid-1980s. The group is a loosely organized band of armed militants that for several years was engaged in an intense and bloody insurgency against the Ugandan government, and is now roaming the thick jungles of Central Africa. They are often described as a terrorist group by scholars, journalists and government agencies, largely because of their longstanding use of violence or the threat of violence to coerce the behavior of local populations and governments in pursuit of a political agenda.

The group is led by Joseph Kony, a self-proclaimed messianic prophet who convinced his followers of the need to overthrow Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and establish a new government that would rule according to the Biblical Ten Commandments. Originally, members of the LRA were primarily ethnic Acholi from Uganda, but today the group consists mostly of recruits from other Central African countries. The LRA achieved global notoriety for its brutal massacres and destruction of villages, and for kidnapping young children who are then forced to become members of the group—boys as fighters, girls as sex slaves, porters, scouts and other roles. In 2011, Ambassador Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, stated that 66,000 children had been abducted by the group over the past quarter century. Between 2005 and 2007, a series of military offensives by the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) eventually chased the LRA out of Northern Uganda, and since then the group has been operating in small units in remote eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR), and some western portions of Sudan and South Sudan.

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In Kenya during the Mau Mau Uprising many civilians were mutilated
It appears that Kony also liked mutilations to keep the people in line

The United States has encouraged and helped forces from the CAR, South Sudan, and the DRC to join the fight. In May 2013, the African Union authorized the deployment of 5,000 troops to fight the LRA. The U.S. has supported the Ugandan government for over two decades in its struggle against Kony and the LRA. This support has included training, equipment, and financial assistance. On 14 October 2011, President Obama announced the deployment of 100 United States Special Operations Forces (USSOF) advisors to Central Africa to provide assistance to the forces fighting Kony. In March 2014, the Pentagon announced the deployment of an additional 150 SOF troops along with military aircraft to assist in the hunt for Joseph Kony and the LRA. It is important to keep in mind that the mission for this deployment is of an advisory capacity only.

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LRA Leaders were identified and targeted

Note that Kony’s second-in-command, Caesar Achellam, defected and now works with the anti-LRA forces making anti-Kony propaganda tapes which are broadcast from helicopters. He also appears on numerous leaflets showing the LRA fighters that there is life after defection.

The U.S. entry into this African war started slowly. It was already training troops and police in several African states on methods to fight terrorism, and in 2008, when a combined African force launched Operation Lightning Thunder, President Bush sent 17 military advisors to Uganda and provided financial and logistical assistance to the Ugandan government. On 24 May 2010, President Obama signed “The Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act” into law. The strategy was to attack the LRA leaders; to protect civilians; to encourage escape and defection from the LRA; and to provide humanitarian assistance to affected communities. The first, second and fourth strategy all fall into the realm of PSYOP and the fourth also contains Civil Affairs actions. On 14 October 2011, President Obama decided to deploy 100 combat-equipped U.S. troops to join the multinational mission.

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Kony 2012

In 2012, a film director named Jason Russell produced a documentary about Joseph Kony that aimed to make him famous, “not to celebrate him but to make world government aware of his crimes” and make the US double their efforts to bring Kony to justice. Russell's mission succeeded in raising mass awareness of Kony's horrors and posters saying "Stop Kony" quickly plastered the streets of America and Britain.

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Choose your fate

Notice that one of the leaflets above depicts jail bars. The United States has used this image before. In Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar were shown behind bars and in Iraq leaflets were printed that depicted Saddam Hussein behind bars. These images are considered important because they take away the power from the enemy leaders. If they are in jail they can do no harm so their people are more confident and the nation building can begin. Of course, the Americans never put Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar in jail, but they did catch and place and unkempt, unshaven Saddam behind bars. In this leaflet Kony appears behind bars although the U.S. and African forces never came close to catching him as far as we know. Still, the choice of being in jail or back with your family is a strong concept that requires a decision on the part of the LRA guerrillas.

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A Wanted Poster

During Operation Iraqi Freedom the United States printed several posters with the faces of all of the Iraqi leadership, both political and military. Every few weeks as a number of the wanted Iraqis were caught or killed a new poster would be printed with a big letter "X" over the person who had been killed or captured. Kony was indicted in 2005 for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands. This poster seems to serve the same general purpose. It pictures the bosses and names the senior commanders of the LRA, and where they were killed we see a big "X" and when they came over to the government side or were captured their picture is covered with a plus sign. What must be disheartening to the guerrillas is the knowledge that the government knows exactly who they are.

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Wanted Leaflet for Joseph Kony

In 2013, the U.S. announced that the United States would offer rewards of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest, transfer, or conviction of LRA leaders Joseph Kony, his deputy Okot Odhiambo (later surrendered or was killed), and brigade commander Dominic Ongwen, who surrendered and is on trial in The Hague, charged with 70 offenses including rape, pillage, torture and enslavement.

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Major General Caesar Acillam

Major General Caesar Acillam, one of the top commanders of the Lord's Resistance Army rebels, was captured by the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UDPF). He told journalists that he had planned to move out of the bush where he had spent more than 20 years fighting along side LRAl leader Joseph Kony. Acillam crossed from Democatic Republic of Congo to the Central African Republic after close to nine days of traversing through the jungles in what many analysts say was an attempt to surrender to the UPDF.

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Dominic Ongwen

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His capture made Newspaper headlines

Mr. Ongwen started with the group in 1990 as a 10-year-old abductee. The State Department first announced in 2013 that it would pay a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture of the three LRA leaders. Mr. Kony, Mr. Ongwen and other LRA leaders have been wanted by the International Criminal Court for nearly a decade to face war-crimes charges.

Special Forces teams were sent to Uganda as part of “Operation Observant Compass.” In March 2014, an additional 150 Special Forces troops and CV-22 Osprey aircraft were sent to join the fight. The cost of Operation Observant Compass, according to DOD’s budget requests, totaled roughly $78 million in FY2013 and more than $98 million in FY2014. The Pentagon says that, since 2011, about $780 million has been spent to battle the LRA.

The January-March 2017 issue of Special Warfare has a question and answer column with Brigadier General Donald C. Bolduc: He says about Kony and the LRA:

We’ve had a lot of progress in the hunt for Kony…progress I believe has been widely under-reported. For example, four of the top five International Criminal Court indictees have been removed from the battlefield, hundreds of fighters have voluntarily left the battlefield and the LRA’s area of influence has been reduced from an area the size of California to small, remote areas with little population or governance. The LRA is clearly on the run from a determined and well-supported African task force. This is still a priority for our team; at any given moment, there are approximately 100 U.S. SOF working at SOCFWD-Central Africa to assist the African Union Regional Task Force in the pursuit for Joseph Kony. They’re keeping the pressure on what remains of this armed group and we continue to see progress in the right direction.

The United States and the Ugandan military decided to end their search for Mr. Kony in late April 2017, abandoning the international effort to bring him to justice. The Pentagon considered the operation a partial success and said:

Fewer than 80 armed fighters remain, down from 2,500 at the height of the LRA’s murderous rampage in the late 1990s. They are scattered across remote parts of three countries, where their primary objective is not to topple the Ugandan government but to survive another day.

One critic said Barack Obama’s administration was unwilling to risk the lives of American soldiers. Hence the “advise and assist” mandate that left Africa Command dependent on its Ugandan partners, who chafed under American tutelage and often resisted taking the fight directly to Kony and his inner circle. Strategists have stated that the Americans were never to get involved in the killing of Kony and did not want to seem to be coming in and taking over the operation. It was believed that to better future relationships with the African countries they should allow the local military to take the fight to the rebels. However, it was said that some Ugandan soldiers were afraid to confront Kony’s group directly because they believed he possessed special powers.

The PSYOP Campaign

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U.S. military PSYOP specialists hurl leaflets from a plane into the Central
African bush; the leaflets urge rebels to return home and accept amnesty.
Michael M. Phillips – The Wall Street Journal

Very little has been published about the Psychological Operations. There are a grand total of two comments in the Forest book which basically state that new tactics were used for promoting defections, particularly spreading information about newly established “Safe Reporting” sites throughout the region. Messages in Acholi and French (and other languages, all of which basically say “come home, get medical treatment, you will be taken care of”), often from former LRA members, have proven very effective.

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Six Pentagon blurred images of the anti-LRA leaflets

Former LRA fighters have been a key component of the overall counter-LRA effort. African Union Regional Task Force units have developed and disseminated “come home” leaflets for several years, leading to thousands of defectors looking to take advantage of the 2000 Amnesty Act. Messages have been printed in both Acholi and, more recently in French (for the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic), saying “Come home, get medical treatment, you will be taken care of.” Similar messages have been broadcast via loudspeakers on aircraft flying over areas known to have LRA operatives. U.S. military advisors have also recently helped to transport United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo leaflets encouraging LRA defections for distribution in the Central African Republic. Radio broadcasts have led to a significant number of defectors from the LRA, particularly when they feature a former LRA fighter who assures his listeners of good treatment received back home.

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A surrender Leaflet

Surrender leaflets and safe conduct passes have been used in every war since WWI. They can have a long instructional message or no text at all, just pictures so they can be understood by those who cannot read. Notice first the bright color of this leaflet. It makes it easy to find it in the wet and dark green environment of the jungle. There are four panels, easy to understand whether you can read or not. A guerrilla finds a leaflet; he runs away while the guards sleep; he finds a government soldier and is greeted; and in the last panel he is happily back with his family. Like a fairy tale, the story has a happy ending. Of course, according to a 60 Minutes televised report, if you were caught trying to escape Kony would order all his children soldiers to bite you until you were dead. That is more a horror story than a fairy tale. These leaflets seem to appear with multiple languages. So far we think we have identified Acholi, Zande (Sande), and Lingala (Ngala). The text beneath the four panels is:

THE WAY OF RETURN

What are you fighting for? Why are you moving further and further away from your home?

Do not let the LRA keep you hostage. Do not let them lie to you. Find the courage to escape and find a way to go home.

Go as quickly as possible to the Ugandan Army, Congolese Army, Central African Army, South Sudanese Army or any authority in the United Nations. These people will protect you and take you home in security and dignity.

Your family is waiting for you. They know you were abducted by force and they want you to come home.

This “culturally sensitive” leaflet was was drawn by lead designer Tyler Fordham at the request of the United Nations by the Non-Governmental Organization “Invisible children.” They claimed on 29 October 2013 to have dropped about one million “come home” defection leaflets. The leaflets are also attached to trees by bright red strings by the local defense forces and left at other places where the LRA is sure to pass; water holes and the like. This same technique was used in Vietnam by the Viet Cong who lacking an air force would leave their leaflets wherever the Americans were likely to congregate.

A government amnesty introduced in 2004, which was meant to encourage those in hiding to surrender, has pardoned more than 12,000 former LRA rebels who were once kidnapped by the gunmen and later joined their ranks.

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Messaging by family members leads to mass defections from Kony

The website Invisible Children mentions the messaging in an article entitled “Messaging leads to mass defections from Kony” the article says in part:

Defections from Joseph Kony’s Army spiked in the summer of 2014, in large part due to U.S. messaging from the air and across the radio waves. Soldiers with 7th Military Information Support Battalion (Airborne) have traveled to Uganda to breed resistance within Kony’s ranks. His Lord’s Resistance Army has been sourced through the abduction and indoctrination of thousands of children.

Staff Sergeant Myles McCadney, a member of 7th MISB, who deployed to Africa from December 2013 to May 2014, provided an inside and candid look at the challenges US troops face in fighting the elusive warlord. McCadney outlined how U.S. troops, working together with African nations, have successfully launched an extensive media campaign and convinced a number of Kony’s soldiers to defect. Troops use radio frequencies to encourage defections and gain support of the civilian populations. Aerial loudspeakers have been a key tool, and so has a mobile cinema display that tells the story of a child’s abduction and his eventual decision to defect. When radio or aerial messaging is impossible, thousands of leaflets are dropped from above or nailed on trees on trails known to be populated by Kony’s Army. In just the second half of 2014 alone, missions included: 14 leaflet drops; 515,000 leaflets disseminated; 20 messages via radio; and 19 aerial loudspeaker operations.

Since January 2012, there have been more than 240 confirmed defections of Kony’s Army. More than 80 of those occurred in July through September. A big reason for the spike was the successful defection of Sam Opio, a senior rebel commander who was influenced by the U.S.-supported messaging efforts. The staff sergeant said he personally led efforts to develop a radio station that would be heard by Kony’s Amy. The radio messages attempt to convince Kony’s troops that they will be accepted with open arms if they choose to leave the warlord’s Army.

It’s not an easy sell. Many of Kony’s troops, due to their indoctrination, believe Kony has supernatural powers. McCadney compared their loyalty to Stockholm Syndrome. Kony also threatens that anyone caught defecting will face torture and death.

In another Invisible Children website story entitled “Come home LRA Defection Messaging,” we find the following statistics:

We construct and repair FM radio towers and partner with local radio operators in affected areas as well as in northern Uganda, to record and broadcast ‘come home’ messages directly to the LRA. These messages give detailed instructions and the assurance of forgiveness and acceptance upon defection to encourage those still held captive by the LRA to peacefully surrender.

Our accomplishments: 10 partner stations; 4,320 Hours of Come Home Messages Broadcast since 2013; 29,628 square miles covered by Invisible Children broadcasts

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Ugandan pop star Chameleone

Speaking of “Come Home," helicopters flying low over the jungle play the song “Come Home” from loudspeakers buzzing over the jungle. At the same time Ugandan pop star Chameleone sings the song and urges Kony’s followers to turn their back on LRA. Chameleone composed the song in 2013 at the behest of U.S. embassy officers who were looking for innovative ways to reach would-be defectors. Chameleone told ABC News he wrote the song to try and “cajole” Kony, who he says is a fan, out of the bush. Some of the lyrics are:

Your mother, father and family are waiting for you…
Do not suffer out there thinking nobody cares about you…
I am simply waiting for my brothers in the LRA to come home. You are forgiven.

Invisible Children is not the only NGO broadcasting to the LRA. The website Africa Renewal published a Mary Kimani article in October 2007 entitled “Broadcasting peace: radio a tool for recovery.” She says in part:

Oryema, a former LRA child soldier who later returned home, explains why. “I did not feel anything bad about killing,” he says. “Not until I started listening to Radio Mega…. I actually heard over the radio how...we burnt homes…. And I started to think, ‘Are we really fighting a normal war?’ That is when I started realizing that maybe there is something better than being here in the bush.”

According to Mr. Boniface Ojok of the non-profit project Justice and Reconciliation, located in Gulu, northern Uganda, Mega FM’s program “Dwog cen paco” (come back home) “succeeded in encouraging rebels to come out of the bush.” The program brought former soldiers like Oryema on the air to talk about their experiences.

Funded by the UK’s Department for International Development, Mega FM is one of several such stations that have been set up in Africa by the United Nations, donor agencies, churches and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to help communities overcome the challenges of rebuilding peace after wars have ended.

One of the defection leaflet messages written in Acholi, Pazande, and Lingala is mentioned in The Lord’s Resistance Army by Lawrence E. Cline:

Message to all LRA:

What are you fighting for? Why are you moving further and further away from your home? Do not let the LRA keep you hostage. Do not let them lie to you. Find the courage to escape. Go as quickly as possible to the Ugandan Army, Congolese Army, Central African Army, South Sudanese Army or any authority in the United Nations. These people will protect you and take you home in security and dignity. Your family is waiting for you. They know you were abducted by force and they want you to come home.

Another message is mentioned by a former guerrilla named Obira Julius. He tells of lying on the ground when he heard a female voice in the sky. It sounded familiar, a voice from his childhood, coming from a loudspeaker on a passing American helicopter. He had last heard that voice 13 years earlier, when he was just 5 years old and the LRA rebels took him captive. It was his mother, calling him home:

The American and Ugandan soldiers are not there to harm you. They will bring you home safe. I am asking you to be strong and not to worry about anything. Please come home.

Soon afterwards, Mr. Obira ran away from the rebels and returned to his home in Uganda hundreds of miles away. He was granted amnesty for his actions while a captive.

The Defection of Michael Omona

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A U.S. PSYOP soldier took a photo of Michael’s uncle to be used on a
Leaflet to draw Mr. Omona away from the Lord’s Resistance Army.
U.S. Special Operations Command – Africa

When the American PSYOP troops were able to identify a specific child kidnapped by the LRA and turned into a soldier, they could often find a relative to give some personal information about the child, make a tape offering amnesty and even produce leaflets. This is a brief look at how Michael Omona was able to return to his family. The story is told by Joel Harding in a 13 March 2017 article entitled Pizzas, Loudspeakers and Moms: The U.S. Military’s Unorthodox Mission Against Joseph Kony.

Omona had been abducted in 1994, at the age of 13, and was considered one of the rebels’ old guard. The Americans dropped thousands of leaflets showing Mr. Omona’s uncle, a respected chief, holding a letter Mr. Omona had sent him during a brief break in the fighting 10 years ago. “Please pray for me, I’m in a tight spot,” Mr. Omona had written at the time. Another photo showed Mr. Omona’s young daughter posing with a picture of her father; rebels sometimes send their own children out of hiding to safety. Omona, 35, was abducted by the LRA at the age of 12. He later rose through the ranks to become the rebel group's top radio operator with the rank of Major, specifically in charge of handling Kony's communications.

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One of the leaflets targeting Michael Omona
What I’m going to ask you is to please come home, my son.

The Americans recorded a message from an aunt, Alanyo Magret, who was a mother-figure to Mr. Omona, and added it to the helicopter playlist. “Look, all of your friends are here,” Ms. Alanyo said. “They’re being well cared for, and others are in school. It’s time for you to come home.” Ultimately, Mr. Omona heard a message from Ms. Alanyo that U.S. soldiers arranged to have broadcast over the radio. He escaped during a patrol in January by pretending he had forgotten a list of needed supplies and had to return to camp. His former comrades gave chase and shot at him. He made it to safety in Central African Republic after 11 days.

Michael said after his escape:

I was kidnapped in 1994 and I was taken to the bush, after sometime we came to Central African Republic but I managed to communicate with a friend of mine called Ochwe and I would tell him where I was all the time and I believe that’s why I am still alive today," In the bush, I was in the department of signals from 1995 until 2017.

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Gulu Archbishop John Baptist Odama (left) welcomes Mr Michael Omona,
a former LRA signaller, upon arrival at Gulu Airfield on Monday.
Photo by Juluis Ocungi

Army spokesman Richard Karemire had this to say about Omona's defection:

Having him weakens the command and control of the LRA because communication is a major component in command and control of the military even if it is a ragtag force like the LRA.

This surrender is an indication that our psychological operation of dropping leaflets calling on the rebels to renounce banditry and come out of hiding is effective. It shows we (the military) are winning.

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The defection of Otto Samuel

Very much like the return of Michael Omona to his village, here the former terrorist Otto Samuel is depicted with his family after defecting from the LRA and returning to his family.

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Former rebel Kidega Peter is welcomed home to his village in Uganda in
February after fleeing the Lord’s Resistance Army, which kidnapped him in 2003.

The Congressional Research Service published a booklet entitled The Lord’s Resistance Army: The U.S, Response. It mentioned PSYOP once:

The United States is working with U.N. peacekeeping missions, the African Union, and regional governments to facilitate the return, repatriation, and reintegration of those who desert the LRA’s ranks. According to the State Department, U.S. military advisors and diplomats have expanded efforts to promote desertions by LRA combatants, using leaflet drops, radio broadcasts, aerial loudspeakers, and “the establishment of reporting sites where LRA fighters can safely surrender.” In a 2014 fact sheet, the State Department pointed to the desertion of 19 individuals in the Central African Republic in December 2013, including nine Ugandan male nationals (generally Ugandan males in the LRA are assumed to have served in combatant roles, even if they were initially abducted), as evidence that these efforts are working. Similarly, in an August 2015 briefing, Paul Ronan, co-founder and project director of the LRA Crisis Tracker, noted that seven May 2015 defectors chose to bypass nearby towns and walk for weeks to reach an area in which U.S. troops were based because, according to his interviews with them, “they knew from these messaging campaigns that if they defected to U.S. troops then they would be safe.” U.S. funding has also supported the rehabilitation and reintegration of former abducted youth in CAR and DRC.

The Observer (Kampala) said in an article entitled “East Africa: US Army Uses Mothers to Get Kony's Men to Defect” on 15 March 2017:

American Special Forces deployed in the Central African Republic to support the hunt for Joseph Kony and his LRA rebels have switched from using bullets to blaring recordings from mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles to persuade the militants to defect. US commandos are relying more on psychological operations to lure die-hard militants out of the bush using their families as messengers.

American helicopters roam the skies deep in the center of the Central African Republic, blaring recorded “come-home” messages. They have also created personalized leaflets with photos of LRA fighters' families, which are dropped into the bush by their hundreds of thousands. American soldiers also produce individualized family pleas to broadcast on jungle radio stations. One message from a mother directed at one Obira said: “I am asking you to be strong and not to worry about anything, please come home.”

The Americans are using rebel defectors to identify rebels that are still loyal to Kony. The rebels' relatives are then tracked down in Uganda to record messages appealing to them to defect. Over half a million leaflets have so far been dropped in CAR in the last six months. It is said that Kony tells his followers the leaf- lets are poisonous and shouldn't be touched. He also warns them that the Americans can spy on rebels through the leaflets.

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A “Radio” Leaflet

Radio leaflets have been used in just about every war since WWII. In that war the U.S. and Britain regularly told the Germans to tune into the BBC and the Germans retaliated with leaflets advertising “Jerry’s Radio.” We saw this again in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and the British even produced a radio leaflet for the Falklands War. In the leaflet above a LRA soldier listens to the radio and is told how to defect. At the right is a scene of many happy defectors and their families and at the lower left all the radio stations. At the lower right are all the flags of the countries united against the LRA.

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Two former LRA soldiers hold the radio leaflet

This is another leaflet designed by the “Invisible Children” organization. They dropped 90,000 of the fliers over a region in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Printed on each leaflet is a photo of LRA fighters who recently surrendered, and includes detailed instructions on how and where to escape. Several of the abductees recognized defectors in the photograph and were motivated to risk defection themselves. The leaflet mentions the word Omego (Brother) specifically to tell the finder that they will be treated like brothers when they return.

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An Invisible Children Leaflet Drop
Stars and Stripes – 28 February 2013

Some 30,000 leaflets were dropped by Invisible Children over Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where elements of the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group are believed to be present. Most of the 690,000 leaflets dropped at the time this photo was taken have showcased former LRA members who deserted from the rebel group and urged their former colleagues to do the same.

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The “We Are Free” Leaflet mentioned below

Part of the LRA propaganda was the claim that all defectors were killed. This leaflet directly countered that by showing six defectors together. It also showed genuine happiness. The man third from the left is Opio Sam. He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the LRA before defecting. The other five are also defectors. The main concept behind the photo was to show proof of life and quality of life. Opio Sam defected in summer of 2014, and the others defected over a year later. For the photo they were just asked to line up. They laughed and joked entirely on their own. This picture was used on several different products. We show a second leaflet using the image direct below the “We are Free” version.

Also among the leaflets that are dropped are those showing former rebels enjoying themselves after abandoning the rebellion. During the dry sea son, when food is scarce in the forest, the Americans carpeted the bush with leaflets showing a well-known defector enjoying a Margherita pizza. “Hungry?” the leaflet read. While in the bush, Peter Kidega, a former LRA machine gun operator, says he once picked up a leaf let with the words, "We Are Free" written across the top. The photo showed six men laughing together. Four were Mr. Kony’s personal bodyguards, who had escaped in 2015. One man had defected in 2014 and the last one in 2016.

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Invisible Children leaflets depicting happy defectors who have returned home

Curiously, this same theme was used in Korea and Vietnam by the American propagandists. Leaflets showing weeping North Korean, Chinese and North Vietnamese mothers were dropped telling their boys to come home. In fact, the largest single campaign of the Vietnam War was probably the Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) campaign where millions of dollars were spent on leaflets, posters, newspapers, loudspeaker and radio broadcasts trying to get the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops to defect and come over to the government. I have seen a dozen different estimates on how successful this program was, and one document stated that 200,000 enemy troops were taken out of the field over the decade of the Vietnam War.

And of course, the enemy has often stated that the American leaflets are poisoned and should not be picked up. It seems in the world of PSYOP nothing ever changes. The “hunger” themes have also been used in various wars. In the Pacific in WWII the Japanese dropped a leaflet showing a plate of food to starving U.S. troops in the Philippines. The plate was all fish and vegetables. The Japanese did not know their enemy; they should have pictured steaks and hamburgers. Later in the war the American dropped a similar leaflet on the Japanese stranded on bypassed islands. The Americans knew their enemy. The plate featured sushi.

Training the African Soldiers

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U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Ryan Hurst, 346th Tactical Psychological Operations Company (Airborne) noncommissioned officer in charge, deployed to the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, talks to Uganda People’s Defence Force Marine commander, Lt. Alvin Murungi, outside a classroom at the Uganda Senior Command and Staff College in Jinja, Uganda, 14 August 2017. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Andria Allmond)

One of the main duties of the American Special Forces is to train up the armed forces of a nation they are assigned to. This was especially true in the anti-LRA mission. American soldiers regularly worked with the Africans troops.

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Uganda People's Defence Force Marines work on a psychological operations training exercise with the guidance of the 346th Tactical Psychological Operations Company (Airborne) who are deployed to the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, at the Uganda Senior Command and Staff College in Jinja, Uganda, Aug. 14, 2017. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Andria Allmond)

In an article entitled Ugandan military forces mature skills in psychological operation to counter violent extremist organizations,” Technical Sergeant Andria Allmond says in part:

The Uganda People’s Defence Force (UDPF) are working with the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa to mature their use of psychological operations to counter these atrocities. Each phase of training spans approximately one year and under each phase is three distinct parts. Most recently, Soldiers of the 346th Tactical Psychological Operations Company (Airborne), out of Columbus, Ohio, have been facilitating the third phase of the program for UPDF members at the Uganda Senior Command and Staff College. The goal upon reaching phase four, is to have the UPDF be self-sustaining and able to teach and implement psychological operations as well as other operations against violent extremist organizations. U.S. forces project certifying all UPDF trainers by the close of 2018; but, the intention is for both nations’ militaries to continue training together beyond that date and learn from each other’s best practices.

Because the vast majority of the leaflets used in this campaign were all burnt and unavailable in better condition, this has been just a short look at the PSYOP war against the LRA. Those readers who have comments are encouraged to write to the author at sgmbert@hotmail.com.