By David Axe
I crossed paths with the San Diego-based aid group Invisible Children in October 2010 in Dungu, a town in eastern Congo. I was there reporting on the Lord's Resistance Army rebel group. Invisible Children's Adam Finck was there for the LRA, too. The aid group had scored some big corporate grants that it was using to buy radios for isolated Congolese communities. The idea being: when the LRA attacked, the villagers could radio for help.
I had just come from meeting some of the LRA's victims, including a 13-year-old girl whose father was murdered by the LRA right in front of her–a story we are telling in a future chapter of Army Of God. The rebels kidnapped the girl and her brother and raped her repeatedly They would have forced her to kill for the group, too, but luckily the Ugandan army raided the encampment and freed her. Other people have suffered even worse. The LRA likes to mark some of its victims by cutting off their lips.
Over beers at the U.N. compound in Dungu, Adam and I talked about Joseph Kony, the LRA's firebrand leader who for two decades has enslaved and brainwashed children while cutting a bloody swath across northern Uganda, Congo, Sudan and Central African Republic, raping or killing tens of thousands and displacing millions. Long uprooted from its Ugandan homeland, Kony and the LRA no longer have any clear political aims. They killed as a way of life, evading repeated attempts to round them up by the armies of a dozen nations.
Neither Adam nor I is what you could call a militarist. He's an unarmed volunteer advocating the protection of vulnerable children. I'm a war correspondent who's seen more than enough death and destruction for one lifetime. But we agreed: Kony needs killing. More to the point, he can be killed. In many conflicts, killing any one man has little effect. Even the Afghanistan war continued after Osama Bin Laden's May 2011 killing by U.S. Navy SEALs. But unlike Bin Laden, Kony has no local support, no grassroots politics and only a few hundred foot soldiers. Killing Kony would most likely destroy the LRA and save potentially thousands of lives.
So I was not surprised when, last week, Invisible Children launched a major social media campaign, Kony 2012, aimed at raising awareness of Kony and his crimes, and advocating for a sustained U.S. military role in the hunt for the LRA leader. U.S. Special Forces deployed to Central Africa last year to assist the Ugandans, Congolese, Sudanese and Central Africans in their various campaigns against Kony.
The Kony 2012 campaign is not perfect. The headlining video oversimplifies some of the realities of Kony's disposition and the LRA's crimes. Some critics have pointed out that Invisible Children typically invests just a third of its millions of dollars in direct assistance to vulnerable children; most of the rest is spent on staff, travel and videos. Still others warn that sustained military action against Kony could come at a high cost: Americans and African civilians killed, potentially billions of dollars spent with no guarantee of success, possible political blowback from a the U.S. military presence.
I appreciate the criticism of Invisible Children, but I stand by the words Finck and I exchanged that night two years ago. Kony is a monster. Capturing or killing him will not be easy, but it is possible -- and it can be achieved without sparking a wider war. Violence is rarely the answer to the world's problems. But sometimes it is.
Support Invisible Children. Get Kony. Save lives.
David Axe is a freelance war correspondent. His most recent book is From A to B: How Logistics Fuels American Power and Prosperity. He blogs at www.warisboring.com.