SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)

NOTE: In November 2023 we received a request from a US-based designer working for a US-based medical volunteer group STEP UP UGANDA that works in North Uganda to help increase medical capacity in the Gulu district of Uganda. "I’m creating a website for their medical team that provides training and education for local healthcare workers throughout the region. I’m writing to ask permission to quote text and use photos from your article The Fight Against the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) in Africa. We wanted to include a small historical description of the LRA and the effect on the region to help our viewers better understand the trauma endured and motivate them to want to help. Many thanks for your consideration."

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Ugandan People’s Defense Forces on Patrol

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U.S. Military Deployments to Africa

[Note]: This 7000-word article was originally written and uploaded in August 2017. In September of 2018 I discovered a Naval Postgraduate School thesis entitled Bending the Spear: the Campaign Against the Lord’s Resistance Army by Jonathan R. Easter and Benon M. Hatangimana, dated December 2017. I have added some of the data from that thesis to this story. Where I mention text from the paper I will credit with “The thesis adds:”

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.

The Small Wars Journal said about Kony and his guerrilla forces in an article titled “PSYOP During the Counter – Lord’s Resistance Army Campaign:”

Based on United Nations statistics, Kony is responsible for at least 100,000 deaths, abductions of over 60,000 children, and the displacements of up to 2.5 million civilians since the groups founding. Because of the perpetrated crimes against humanity, and the threats LRA continues to pose, the UN and the US Department of State included the LRA on the Terrorist Exclusion List and categorized Kony as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. Multiple national and international actors to include the Ugandan, Sudanese and Congolese governments and armies, the US government and advocacy or human rights groups frame the LRA in a variety of ways.

In central Africa, Joseph Kony sought to instigate an insurgency in Uganda, intent on forming a Christian theocratic government. Other than the band of insurgents that aided in his formation of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Kony received no tangible external support nor did he employ any legitimate mechanism to achieve his insurgent objectives. Kony employed a method of forced child conscription to form the rank and file of the LRA. Children would sometimes be required to execute their parents and then ‘consoled’ with ‘we are your family now’ and coerced with ‘you have no home to return to’. Kony and the LRA relied on violence and coercion. Kony’s claim of legitimacy was through his self-appointed status as a prophet in which he possessed magical powers with no corroborating testimony from witnesses or other credible sources. Kony routinely punished insubordination with physical beatings, maiming, reduction in rank, and execution. Kony did not seek adoration, only respect through fear.

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 (CAR). 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.

Risdel Kasasira covered this in greater depth in The Uganda Daily Monitor story entitled “Kony quits hi-tech tools, uses runners:”

Faced with Special Forces troops from the most sophisticated army in the world, Lord's Resistance Army rebel leader Joseph Kony has reportedly abandoned the use of radios and satellite phones to avoid being tracked and captured. Instead, Kony, whose insurgency goes back to 1987, has turned to low-tech methods of communication like using human couriers to coordinate what is left of his fighting force in his hideouts somewhere in the vast jungles of central Africa.

Despite having some of the best surveillance equipment, the US soldiers sent to assist in the hunt will have to use a bit of instinct when they hit the central African jungles. The troops are here following a directive from the US President Barack Obama to have some 100 commandos help disarm the LRA and bring its leader to justice.

A former LRA insider, Richard Komakech Abwola, currently camped at the Uganda People's Defense Forces base in Nzara, South Sudan, said Kony was becoming less brutal to his fighters because of defections. “He has realized he doesn't need to be rude because life is hard; some good fighters have run away because of pressure from the Uganda People's Defense Forces.”

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

Kony apparently used photographs of his group as a form of propaganda. A 9 December 2019 Washington Post article by Kristof Titeca titled “How Joseph Kony’s notorious Lord’s Resistance Army uses photographs as weapons” stated that pictures of armed fighters and their weapons were often left close to military bases and on trails where they might be found and frighten the enemy. They also tied the fighters closer to the LRA and made it almost impossible for them to leave. Kony apparently forced them to commit atrocities and kill members of the own family and photographed everything. Those damaging pictures made it impossible in theory for the fighters to return to their families. They were told they would be shunned and although the author does not mention it, I am sure they were also told they would be prosecuted and convicted.

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.

In January 2008, the Democratic Republic of the Congo requested a feasibility study on the potential use of non-lethal, Psychological Operations (PSYOP) as a means to influence negative forces and asked that a PSYOP assessment team be dispatched to the DRC as quickly as possible. Military pressure was clearly a necessary component to impose the Government's authority over the area in conflict and to achieve peace and stability in the region, which included Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi.In addition to conventional military action, however, non-lethal, Psychological Operations was an effective means to influence negative forces. The primary goal of PSYOP was to improve efforts to entice members of illegal armed groups to desert. Secondary goals include reinforcing the importance of respecting human rights, the protection of civilian populations, and prevention of gender-based violence, including plans to end impunity and bring to justice the worst perpetrators of crimes.

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A Soldier from the 7th Psychological Operations Battalion drops leaflets into the dense jungles where the LRA operated.

In December 2008, Kony's known position was in Camp Swahili in the northwestern part of Garamba Park. He was reportedly with 300 LRA fighters. When the Ugandan forces appeared, Kony and his troops fled into the forest. The Ugandan forces asked for helicopter support to persuade LRA members in the forest to surrender. This operation included dropping leaflets and using loudspeakers to guide LRA combatants and their dependents to regroupment areas. Shortly afterwards, six LRA dependents surrendered.

In late December, the Armed Forces of Uganda (UPDF), the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC), and Southern Sudan (SPLA) launched an attack on LRA hideouts of terrorist Joseph Kony in Garamba, Democratic Republic of Congo. The three Armed Forces successfully attacked the main body of bandits and destroyed the main camp of Kony code-named Camp Swahili setting it on fire. The combined forces urged the LRA to release the women and children it held in captivity. They also encouraged the LRA to assemble at Rikwangba and make immediate arrangements to sign a peace agreement in the Light of Renewed Military Action. The Ugandans dropped leaflets carrying messages of peace and opportunity and directing those fleeing the camps to surrender to any church, public institution, or the military. Similar messages were transmitted on local radio stations. The leaflets and radio broadcasts also gave the locations of reception centers.

In 2009, there was a report that the LRA killed 800 and abducted 460 Congolese citizens between September and early November 2008. Kony’s rampage that started in was a deliberate strategy to discourage defectors by turning local communities against them. It was determined that the LRA attacks were a direct response to the LRA defections in August and aimed at penalizing and discouraging local communities that had helped escapees. These attacks set the stage for LRA tactics being used against local populations. It was estimated that there are about eight groups of LRA operating, but that only three or four of them containing high command elements are killing in a coordinated manner. LRA Deputy Okot Odhiambo was with about 100 combatants in the forests near Gangala, Gamaya, and Nawaku. A second group led by Dominic Ongwen killed 23 in Dijabe. This group, left Garamba National Park, killed people in Duru and Bitima, and then was pushed back when they attempted to go north to Yambio, southern Sudan. A third group led by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Arop and a group of 70 carried out the attack on Faradje and four villages to the southwest. This group may have carried out diversionary attacks that would allow Kony to rejoin Odhiambo or escape the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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

Major Jonathan Easter wrote an article titled “A Mission of Attrition” in the January-March 2019 issue of Special Warfare. One of his comments on leaflets was:

The U.S. disseminated more than one million leaflets. One U.S. veteran of the operation described this as a “massive littering campaign,” but qualified that statement further:

"The goal wasn’t just to litter; it was to send a signal to the LRA. Where the leaflets dropped, and we started using crossing points, watering holes, traditional rat lines, etcetera, either the foraging [LRA] group commanders had to avoid the area or risk their troops learning of the [defection] program… [LRA] commanders had to decide whether to inform Kony and company [that] there were flyers [leaflets] in the area and risk him having them killed for exposure to those things.

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

The Thesis mentions leaflets and quotes one veteran of the operation:

Throughout the course of Operation Observant Compass, the U.S. dropped as many as one million leaflets. One U.S. veteran of the operation described this as a “massive littering campaign,” but qualified that statement further: The goal wasn’t just to litter; it was to send a signal to the LRA. Where the leaflets dropped, and we started using crossing points, watering holes, traditional rat lines, et cetera, either the foraging LRA group commanders had to avoid the area or risk their troops learning of the defection program… and if they avoided the traditional places, their soldiers knew something was different just by that avoidance. LRA commanders had to decide whether to inform Kony and company that there were leaflets in the area and risk him having them killed for exposure to those things. LRA commanders had to decide what to tell their people, and even when they didn’t tell their people about the leaflets, info leaked, and LRA commanders had to decide for themselves what to do with the information they had about the defectionfrom these leaflets; to take advantage of it or risk losing more than they already had.

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United Nations personnel broadcast defection messages from
mobile FM Radio station in Bangadi, Democratic Republic of the Congo

An August 2015 publication called The Resolve mentioned anti-LRA PSYOP in more detail. Some of the comments are:

Since 2011, this informal coalition has developed a multi-faceted model for delivering defection messaging to LRA groups. US forces alone have dropped over one million leaflets over LRA-affected areas of the Central African Republic and Congo since 2011, often utilizing photos and messages of recent LRA defectors. They have also rehabilitated FM radio stations that play “Come Home” messages in Obo, Mboki, and Djemah in the Central African Republic and Dungu, Faradje, Banda, and other communities in the Congo. The US advisers and Invisible Children have also partnered with the Uganda Broadcast Corporation, whose Acholi-language shortwave “Come Home” programs are popular with LRA commanders and have greater geographic reach than FM programs. US military advisers have also pioneered the use of aerial loudspeaker missions, where speakers playing “Come Home” messages are strapped to aircraft and flown over areas of suspected LRA activity.

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Former Lord's Resistance Army fighters provide feedback on leaflets in Gulu, Uganda,
in order to help create effective products to encourage more fighters to seek amnesty.
(U.S. Army Photo)

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. This Act offers amnesty for any fighter who abandons the LRA ranks and renounces violence. Over 13,000 former LRA combatants have taken up the offer by 2017, according to official figures. The law also allows high-ranking commanders a means by which to avoid prosecution for the wartime crimes they may have orchestrated. However it should be noted that blanket Amnesty is not automatic for all high-ranking commanders. Approval is granted on a case-by-case basis. Instead Uganda is working with a "dual conflict response model that seeks to pursue peace alongside accountability" for those commanders known to have committed atrocities on the people of Uganda.

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U.S. soldier prepares to release leaflet boxes
as part of Operation Observant Compass

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.

One year after I wrote and uploaded this article onto the Internet, I ran across a paper that depicted much of the propaganda used against the Lord’s Resistance Army. I depict some of those items here. The thesis says about these leaflets:

The leaflets featured in this Appendix are only a small sample of the hundreds of different designs and variations produced during Operation Observant Compass. They were printed with bright colors to cause them to stand out in the forests and savannas where the LRA operated. Some were small, the size of trading cards, to make them easier for LRA members to conceal. Others were larger to make them more visible if they were obscured by natural debris and foliage. All of them were laminated to some degree for longevity and resistance to the elements

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Small Leaflets Featuring Former LRA Members back at Home

These are three leaflets from a series depicting former LRA at home in northern Uganda. The reverse sides featured maps to safe reporting sites (SRS) locations. These leaflets were smaller than most to make them more concealable if LRA fighters needed to hide them.

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Leaflet Promoting the U.S. War Crimes Rewards Program

This leaflet targeted Congolese nationals in the LRA’s area of operations to promote awareness of rewards for information on Kony and his senior commanders. These leaflet were not from the U.S. Army and thus were not blurred.

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Leaflet Advertising Rewards and Radio Station Frequencies

This leaflet targeted civilian populations in the area affected by the LRA who often spoke French as a common language. Some of the LRA also spoke French, particularly those who were abducted from the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo or the South Sudan.

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Leaflet Featuring Dominic Ongwen and Other Former LRA Members

This leaflet is an English translation. The version disseminated was printed in the Acholi language.

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The Back of the Ongwen leaflet showing
safe reporting site locations in the Central African Republic

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Leaflet featuring former LRA Commanders Caesar Acellam and Binany Otto

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This Leaflet Features LRA Returnee Families in Northern Uganda

Leaflets such as this one provided evidence that multiple LRA defectors were still alive as they defected at different times. This was to counteract the LRA’s propaganda that LRA members who defected would be killed by the Ugandan government.

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This leaflet features former captive members of the
Lord’s Resistance Army graduating from school in Uganda

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Map leaflet depicting safe reporting sites

This leaflet was designed and produced by the Invisible Children program, but was also disseminated by U.S Army soldiers and Uganda Defense Forces. The map features safe reporting site locations and telephone numbers.

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A Small Billboard Directing LRA Members to Safe Reporting Sites in the South Sudan

These “billboards” in the Acholi language were placed along jungle trails and road sides. They featured frequencies for DDR radio stations, simple instructions for defection, and contact information for civilian volunteers and security forces from the U.S. and African Union Regional Task Force.

Return to your Country

This leaflet depicts what I assume are the wives or girlfriends of the LRA fighters in the bush. They seem happy and ready to entice their men to leave the rebels and come home. The text is:

Anyone who leaves the forest who was held by the LRA will be granted amnesty under international law. And he will also get the support of all of us waiting for you.

Return to your country. Your families will support you.


Your Families Need You

This leaflet shows the rebels how to defect from the LRA and return to their families. A five-panel cartoon depicts a fighter finding and reading a leaflet, leaving the camp, turning himself in, being brought to an aircraft which takes him home to his family. It bears the phone numbers of the various support agencies and a map to help the defector find his way home. The text is:

We will take you from the forest to your country. Your families need you.
Our HELICOPTERS will be ready to take you and bring you back home.

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Bulletin Board

This bulletin board and many others contain multiple leaflets and other information to familiarize local villagers with the methods used to encourage defections. When LRA defectors arrive carrying some of those same leaflets, this increased the likelihood that the villagers would recognize the event as a defection instead of mistaking it for an attack.

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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:


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.

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The Leaflet Sketch that Tyler Fordham Drew

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.

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One of Kony’s forty abducted wives holds the leaflet
that convinced her to escape and return home

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Hanging a leaflet

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.

Easter adds about the amnesty offer in “A Mission of Attrition” in the January-March 2019 issue of Special Warfare:

This effort was an effective, yet humanitarian, approach to a complex conflict by pursuing the objective of depleting the rebels’ strength through surrender rather than solely by killing them. This emphasis on defection was largely due to the LRA’s use of abducted child soldiers to fill its ranks, along with the recognition that these same child soldiers were trapped within the organization by the brutal indoctrination methods of the LRA’s leader, Joseph Kony. These defection efforts contributed to reducing the LRA’s strength from roughly 400 fighters in 2011, to fewer than 80 in 2017 when U.S. forces withdrew…All of this was completed by executing a mixed approach of lethal military operations with non-lethal appeals for defection, blended with a political strategy of local reconciliation.

One Ugandan People’s Defense Force veteran of this period, who was a platoon commander in Gulu from 1989 until 1995, described the discipline of the NRA troops as a major factor in winning the support of the population:

"The most important weapon is the discipline of the forces formed by political education…You cannot punish one who is opposed and the entire tribe with him. You must punish individually…They [soldiers] must be considerate of the victims. Our conduct turned the people against Kony.”

The concept of granting amnesty to the LRA rebels was rooted in traditional Acholi customs. The ritual of mato oput provided for complete forgiveness for an offender and reconciliation with the community, regardless of the severity of the crimes committed. Children, in Acholi tradition, are not held fully responsible for their deeds.

They had many customs of reconciliation, of which the most widely known is mato oput…Two parties, with a mediator, met together and shared a bitter drink made from the bark of the oput tree. During the ritual, both parties agreed to forgive one another. This ritual culminated in an oath called gomo tong, or ‘bending the spear’, in which both parties agreed never to turn weapons on each other again.

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Special Operations Command - Forward radio Station in Djemah, Central African Republic (CAR)

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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.

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A leaflet from former LRA member Lacambel Wod Ogena appealing to his fellow LRA members to return home

The front of the leaflet shows photos of Lacambel. The first photo shows Lacambel in Dungu, a town in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with the text:

This is Lacambel in Dungu, DRC

The second photo shows Lacambel with MONUSCO (Mission of the United Nations for the Stabilization of the Democratic of the Congo) Staff and Faradje Authorities.

[Note:Faradje is a town in the Haut-Uele province of the DRC. The selection of this location and Dungu is significant in that on 25 December 2008, Lord Resistance Army (LRA) members fleeing from a multinational military offensive, struck Faradje, killing 40 people. Most of the victims were women and children, who were cut into pieces. In January and February 2011 the LRA again attacked people in the territories of Dungu, Faradje Niangara and Watsa causing 33,000 people to be displaced.]

The back of the leaflet is all text and states:


I am Lacambel passing out this message to you, the LRA. I have seen that the situation in the sub-region is not conducive for human development. This involves countries like Sudan, the CAR, and the DR Congo. LRA has always been a group which was started by an Acholi and comprised mainly of Acholi people but now it has spread to other tribes through abductions that are being carried out. This has tainted the Acholi tribe to be a group of bad people, although some Acholis are good among others in their communities.

In spite of your activities, we still believe that some of us are good people among the Acholi community, and are ensuring that everlasting peace prevails especially in Northern Uganda and all parts of the infiltrated countries including the DR Congo, the Sudan, and CAR. Critically, We plead that you lay down your arms and return home to join your family members who are waiting for you.

My brothers and sisters in the LRA, come back home as we’ve always told you in our popular radio program ( DWOG-PACO) on various radio stations in Uganda, CAR, South Sudan, and the DR Congo.

I want to acknowledge that I recently received a letter addressed to me and I thank you for that gesture. This letter was written in both Acholi and Lingala languages then later dropped somewhere you know within the DRC [Congo]. I understood its contents very well. The letter tells that the author and his followers are interested to come home, but you need my good brotherly guidance to help you in the defection. For that matter I very much welcome the idea wholeheartedly and now urge you to take note of the following:

1. I have already met with the government authorities of the DR Congo and the UN, MONUSCO, the peace keeping mission. They squarely appreciate the idea of your desire of coming out and are looking forward to your surrender. We all sincerely encourage you to do so.

2. They have resolved that you go straight without fear and surrender to the headquarters of MONUSCO which is near the area you dropped off the letter addressed to me.

3. I am in regular and close contact with MONUSCO in the DR Congo regarding the defection.

4. For more details, you may contact me as usual on mobile number:+256772592926, on my satellite phone number: +8821655549157 and +243818907413 for DDRRR Dungu

5. MONUSCO forces are well prepared to receive and take good care of you by assisting to repatriate and reintegrate you into the Ugandan society. This will allow you have a meaningful life like your fellow LRA defectors and escapees who are now back in Uganda and enjoying their normal lives like all other Ugandans.

In conclusion, This particular message addressed to you the LRA is coming to you through the kind courtesy of Mega FM in Gulu, the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) on short wave based in Kampala, and the UN DDR/RR radio stations located in the DR Congo. God bless and guide you till you arrive back here at home.

I am your brother

Lacambel Wod Ogena

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 U.S. 114th Congress took action on 30 July 2015. It passed Senate Resolution 237. It is far too long to show the entire resolution so I will just show the most pertinent paragraphs:

Resolved, That the Senate—

(1) Condemns Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army for continuing to perpetrate crimes against humanity and mass atrocities, and supports ongoing efforts by the United States, the African Union, the international community, and governments in central Africa to remove Joseph Kony and Lord’s Resistance Army commanders from the battlefield and promote protection and recovery for affected communities;

(2) Commends the continued efforts by the African Union, the United Nations, and regional partners to end the threat posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army;

(3) Supports efforts to provide the Regional Task Force with the logistics support and authorizations needed to access all areas of suspected Lord’s Resistance Army activity in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo;

(4) Urges the President to reauthorize the deployment of United States Armed Forces personnel in support of Operation Observant Compass until senior Lord’s Resistance Army commanders are removed from the battlefield and the group no longer poses a significant threat to civilians;

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.

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United States Special Operations Forces Conducting Aerial Loudspeaker Operation
during Operation Observant Compass

The Thesis comments on loudspeakers in several places so let me add some short quotes:

Another technique the U.S. employed was the use of aerial loudspeaker systems. These loudspeakers were mounted on helicopters and flown over the bush to broadcast messages over a range of approximately one mile on either side of the aircraft.

One former LRA fighter recalls that: “We heard many messages…We could listen to radios and the Dwog Cen Paco (“Come Home”) program. Then on helicopter we heard voices of different people who were with us before, we even saw pictures which were dropped using the helicopter. All of them were telling us to come home.

With the aid of local partners, the Special Operations Command – Africa translated messages advertising these programs into seven languages (Acholi, Arabic, French, Lingala, Pazande, Songo, and Swahili) and used leaflets, radio, and loudspeakers for dissemination throughout the LRA’s range.

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A solar-powered FM radio station constructed in the Central African Republic.
Radio stations like this were established in remote villages to extend
the range of clear signals that could reach the Lord's Resistance Army.

Many of the messages are quite short. One that was recorded by a former LRA member, and broadcast via FM and shortwave radio simply says:

I want to send a message to Ocan to come home. I came home with your children. You never had a chance to see your child, she is called [name withheld]. You should come home and see your daughter.

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)

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Combined Joint Task Force ­ Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) PSYOP team assisted Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) in loudspeaker psychological operations

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Members of the Uganda People’s Defence Force and the 346th Tactical Psychological Operations Company Soldiers deployed to Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa stand for a class photo after the UPDF graduated from the third of a four-phase psychological operations training held at the Uganda Junior Command and Staff College, Jinja, Uganda, Aug. 15, 2017Photo 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.

Sudanese Army spokesman Colonel Al-Sawarmy Khaled Saad

We all want the same thing

Several leaflets were produced showing a Colonel Khaled Saad. This one depicts the Colonel in the center and his troops on either side. Notice at the bottom right on each side a tiny image of the African Union flag. The flag contains a green background symbolizing the hope of Africa and 55 gold stars to represent the Member States. The text is:

We all want the same thing.

Colonel Khaled Saad

Please do not interfere with African Union Operations.

African Union soldiers are here to remove Joseph Kony.

The back of the leaflet depicts some of the African soldiers and their equipment. The text is:

The African Union is conducting this operation to remove Joseph Kony and his terrorist organization.


A second leaflet depicts the African Union officer once again. The text is almost incomprehensible according to the translator but is close to that below with a bit of help to make it more readable and seems to imply: Do not hinder the operation by offering to join or help in fighting.


Joseph Kony and the LRA is a terrorist force.
The Sudanese Armed Forces are not interested in your supporting the fight against the LRA.

Colonel Khaled Saad.


The back of the leaflet depicts a map with several locations prominently marked. At first site you automatically believe that these are African Union sites where LRA members can safely surrender and be treated well. That is how the Americans use maps. Instead, no mention seems to be made of the map in the text. Perhaps this is the Sudanese way? The text is:

African Union forces are here to protect you from terrorists.
African Union forces are here to remove Joseph Kony.

To Report information in Arabic, please call this number.
0921035522 - 0928176521
To Submit information in English, please call this number
0921166439 - 0954745906

To report any information personally, please contact the People's Liberation Movement in Bur Al-Madina, South Sudan.

Joseph Kony will be brought to justice.

This is the last leaflet I have with a Sudanese officer from the African Union featured. The back is the same map as the previous leaflet, so we need not show that again. The text on the front of this leaflet is:

Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army is a terrorist force.
The Sudanese Army is not interested in supporting the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Joseph Kony will be brought to justice.
Do not obstruct African Union opeations

Once again, the translator had great difficulty with this translation. The translator said:

Are these leaflets printed by the government of south-Sudan? The grammar is wrong. The expressions are weird, or maybe there is a background to the story, like the rumors that the Sudanese army is supporting the LRA.

I said that I thought they might be written by Sudanese troops and then the translator said:

If these posters were printed by the south-Sudan government, maybe they are using a Creole-Arabic and that explain the mess I could not understand.

The LRA Fights back…kinda

Ugandan officials reported that Kony has been effective in countering government leaflet drops. He had allegedly told his fighters that the leaflets are printed with poison ink and that anyone who touches one will die. This is standard operating procedure for guerrilla leaders. They have no air force and cannot disseminate their own propaganda, although with the availability of low-priced drones that can carry leaflets there may be a day when they can leaflet their enemy. As a result, they have to stop the reading of the leaflets and most guerrilla bands will punish or kill any member seen picking up, reading or carrying an enemy leaflet. Similar leaflet countermeasures were used in Vietnam, and more recently, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Hollywood joins the fight against the LRA…Almost

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Angelina Jolie

Can we find any humor in an article about a band of terrorists that kidnaps children and kills civilians? Maybe! In October 2017, we learned that the former chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno Ocampo, had asked Angelina Jolie to act as bait and try and trap Joseph Kony.

Ocampo approached Jolie and her husband Brad Pitt about five years ago. Allegedly, Jolie had suggested she could lure Kony to dinner as a ruse to arrest him. Ocampo also wrote to Sean Penn and George Clooney. The prosecutor, who was successful in exactly one case in his nine-years on the court, was ultimately even less successful with Jolie. According to the French Web Site Mediapart, he eventually confessed that he was smitten with Jolie sending her and her assistant E-mails that said in part:

Dear Angie, I hope you are well. I miss you…I realize how much I love her.

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Deputy Commander Vincent Otti

Although the power of the LRA has been broken, the search for its leaders goes on. On 8 July 2005, The International Criminal Court (ICC), issued arrest warrants against five of the top LRA commanders for their alleged roles in the violent campaigns against the civilian population majorly in northern Uganda.

One of them, the Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Vincent Otti faces 33 counts of crimes against humanity in violation of the Rome Statute. There were several reports that Otti was executed on 2 October 2007, on the orders of Joseph Kony, after the two men disagreed over the failed 2006 Juba Peace Talks. Otti is alleged to have been killed by a firing squad after being tied on the stump of a tree outside Kony’s base inside Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In 2019, the court was asked if Otti was probably dead, shouldn’t the charges against him be dropped? The answer was “no.” The ICC needed Otti’s body so that DNA tests could be conducted to prove that he is dead. The ICC wanted to send a signal to those committing heinous crimes that impunity has no place in the world. They will hunt you forever.

In February 2021, former “Colonel” Dominic Ongwen was found guilty of 61 offenses. Defense lawyers said that he should not be charged since he was kidnapped as a child of nine years old. The court responded that all the charges he was convicted of occurred when he was a grown man and fully responsible adult in his late 20s.

In 2021, Dr. Jared Tracy wrote an article about the LRA called, “A Team Approach - PSYOP and LRA Defection in 2012” in Veritas, Volume 17, Number 1. He wrote a short paragraph at the conclusion of his article, and I add some of his comments here at the conclusion of this article:

There were eleven PSYOP rotations to central Africa between the start of Operation OBSERVANT COMPASS in October 2011 and its successful conclusion on 21 April 2017. Although Kony remained at-large, the PSYOP-supported defection campaign had diminished the LRA down to less than 100 fighters by early 2017. Defectors and escapees included Lieutenant Colonel Opio Sam on 25 June 2014; Brigadier General Dominic Ongwen in late 2014; seven members of Kony’s inner circle (known as the Kony 7) in June 2015; Colonel Okot George Odek, one of Kony’s bodyguards, on 6 February 2016; and LRA Chief of Communications, Michael Omona, in January 2017. On 29 March 2017, General Thomas D. Waldhauser (U.S. Marine Corps), Commander, U.S. Africa Command declared that African forces could handle what remained of the LRA and shut the mission down the next month.OBSERVANT COMPASS offered a model of how to apply creative, ‘non-kinetic’ solutions to complex military situations.

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