The African Union will send 5,000 soldiers to join the hunt for rebel leader Joseph Kony in a new military mission officials say is necessary to remove the Lord’s Resistance Army from Central Africa’s vast jungle.
The mission is to be launched in South Sudan on Saturday and will last until Kony is caught, United Nations and African Union officials said at a news conference in Uganda.
“We need to stop Kony with hardware, with military hardware in this case,” said Francisco Madeira, the African Union’s special envoy on the LRA. “We are on a mission to stop him.”
The hunt for Kony has primarily been carried out by troops from Uganda, who received a boost last year when President Barack Obama deployed 100 US forces to help regional governments in the mission. American soldiers are now based in Uganda, Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Congo.
The LRA is responsible for 2,600 civilian deaths since 2008, according to the African Union.
The announcement comes after an internet film campaign by the advocacy group Invisible Children sought to make Kony “famous” so that policymakers would make it a priority to remove him.
The video has been viewed more than 100 million times, though it has been criticised in Uganda for oversimplifying a complex military conflict.
The African Union mission, to be led by a Ugandan commander, to stop the LRA will comprise troops from Uganda, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Congo, countries where Kony’s reign of terror has been felt over the years.
The African Union’s focus on Kony dovetails with the Ugandan military’s stance that catching or killing Kony would mean the end of the LRA. His forces were ousted from Ugandan territory in 2005.
The officials meeting in Uganda on Friday did not say where the funding for the mission was coming from but acknowledged that finding money was a problem.
The LRA is thought to have only 200 to 300 soldiers in it. The group has forced many children to become child soldiers and porters and women and girls to become sex slaves.
Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity. He is believed to be hiding in the Central African Republic.
Kony has stopped using technology like telephones, making it hard to track him down.