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Hunt for notorious Ugandan warlord Kony loses momentum

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Where is Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony?

Just a few months ago, the viral Internet video "Kony 2012" led the world to believe it would soon have the answer to that question. Amassing nearly 100 million views within a week of its release in March, the video called for the warlord's capture by year's end.

Millions of dollars in donations poured in. The U.S. government bolstered its strategic coordination with regional governments that would provide ground troops.

But whatever momentum the 30-minute documentary conjured has largely evaporated.

Kony, whose Lord's Resistance Army has survived on a steady regimen of rape, murder, pillage and abduction across East and Central Africa, remains a fugitive, as African Union countries — Uganda, Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic — struggle to coordinate their forces and amass the political will to bring justice to one of Africa's most infamous warlords.

"Fundamentally, not much has changed," said Peter Eichstaedt, author of "First Kill Your Family: Child Soldiers of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army."

About 2,000 African Union troops have the task of combing dense jungles, sometimes without making contact with the Lord's Resistance Army.

Analysts say the mission could use an additional 3,000 troops to hunt down Kony's militia and keep villagers safe from attacks.

So far, none of the involved AU countries has committed more troops.

Last month, the head of the African Union force assigned to find Kony, Ugandan Col. Dick Olum, was waiting for troops and equipment to embark from his base in Yambio, South Sudan.

Uganda, the best equipped of the AU forces, has about 6,000 troops assigned to Somalia to fight the Islamist militant group al-Shabab. The government has been depleted domestically by mismanagement and poor economic performance.

The three other partner nations are among the weakest in the world.

Regional politics also appears to be hindering efforts.

Congo has forbidden Ugandan troops from entering the country to hunt for the rebels because of Uganda's history of plundering the country's minerals. Ugandan soldiers reportedly raped women and children in northern Congo in 2010 and 2011.

The depleted Congolese army, meanwhile, has been handling unrest in Kivu province in eastern Congo.

Reports from defectors and South Sudanese officials suggest that Kony may be getting shelter in Darfur from the Sudanese government, which has supported the Lord's Resistance Army in the past. Sudan may be looking to use Kony's followers as proxies in its dispute over an oil-rich border area with South Sudan.

Some gains have been made. Invisible Children, the producer of "Kony 2012," has installed 30 radio towers in remote areas to encourage defections and communication between villages. Within the year, about 100 fighters and abductees have defected.

Senior commander Ceasar Acellam was either captured or surrendered in May near the border of the Central African Republic and Congo.

But attacks are on the rise, from 53 in the first quarter of this year to 75 in the second, according to the United Nations. The current numbers of soldiers — who patrol a jungle area roughly the size of Nevada — simply don't allow them to respond quickly to sightings of the enemy.

Adequate equipment is also in short supply. U.S. aerial reconnaissance has had difficulty penetrating the triple-canopy jungle, and Ugandan authorities say they need more U.S. helicopter support.

The State Department wouldn't divulge how many helicopters are on loan for the Kony mission, but said it plans to increase operational flight hours by 25 percent in coming months.

About 100 U.S. service members were deployed to the region last year in what the Pentagon describes as an advisory role to help with training, information sharing and operational planning.

In August, U.S. advisers airdropped 350,000 leaflets with a message encouraging defections among remaining fighters, and the advisers have worked with local authorities to expand radio coverage in the Central African Republic.

But the four African countries hunting for Kony are expected to lead efforts to bring about justice in their respective nations.

Kasper Agger, a field researcher with the Enough Project, suspects the U.S. may be turning to a strategy of containment now that the AU force has been assembled. This, he said, would be a huge mistake that would allow Kony's militia to continue.

"The inconvenient truth is that the complete removal of the [Lord's Resistance Army] remains a distant goal," he said.

In August, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and reportedly said, "We have to get the equipment and resources that will help rid the world of this terrible man [Kony]."

She also visited Juba, South Sudan's capital, amid reports that Kony had found a safe haven in Darfur.

Last year, the U.S. pledged $102 million to rehabilitate northern Uganda, where Kony's militia displaced 1.9 million people and abducted 20,000 children in a span of 20 years before reaching a deal to leave Uganda in 2006.

The Defense Department spent nearly $137 million to support operations in the region.

To inject the hunt for Kony with renewed vigor, Invisible Children has released a 30-minute video called "Move." It also has scheduled a rally in Washington for Nov. 17 to press world leaders do more to bring Kony and his followers to justice.

The Lord's Resistance Army has been designated a terrorist group by the State Department, and Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Kony has said his goal is to establish a theocratic state based on the Ten Commandments, though no evidence suggests that this is his true aim.

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