“The L.R.A. has never attacked U.S. interests, why do we care?” the Trump transition team asked. “I hear that even the Ugandans are looking to stop searching for him, since they no longer view him as a threat, so why do we?”
Mr. Kony and his militant force emerged in Uganda in 1987 to fight against President Yoweri Museveni. From 1987 to 2006, the armed group abducted more than 20,000 children to use as soldiers, servants or sex slaves, according to Unicef. The group’s violence has displaced more than 2.5 million people, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center reports.
In 2005, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Kony, a self-proclaimed prophet, for crimes against humanity and war crimes. In 2008, the United States government declared him a “specially designated global terrorist.”
Yet, Mr. Kony, who is believed to be in his 50s, has avoided capture for three decades. His troops operate in small groups spread throughout 115,000 square miles of lawless territory in the border region of Central African Republic, South Sudan, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo – all nations, except Sudan, that contribute forces to an African Union task force fighting against the L.R.A.
Mr. Kony is widely believed to be hiding in the disputed, mineral-rich area of Kafia Kingi in Sudan’s south Darfur state. Sudan’s military has not participated in combating the L.R.A. and, in 2013, nonprofit organizations reported that Sudan’s military had been harboring and supporting Mr. Kony and his forces.
Since 2008, the United States has provided support to military operations against Mr. Kony’s guerrillas. In 2011, the Obama administration went further, and deployed troops to the region to work with the African Union soldiers in the fight against the L.R.A., providing advisory support, intelligence and logistical assistance.
Since then, the Defense Department has spent more than $780 million on the mission, according to a Pentagon spokeswoman, Maj. Audricia Harris. About 150 service members, including three teams of Green Berets, are deployed to the effort.
The Africa Command is looking at “transitioning to the next phase” of the mission, according to Brig. Gen. Donald C. Bolduc, who oversees American Special Operations forces in Africa. He said it would probably be a phased decrease rather than a shutdown.
Others in the American Special Operations community argue that a long-term United States presence on the ground in these countries is in America’s national security interest, and warn against a precipitous withdrawal.
“Persistent presence is the best way to help locals serve as an antibody to extremism,” said retired Lt. Col. D. Scott Mann, a former member of the Green Berets who founded the nonprofit Stability Institute. “Without long-term measures like this campaign, the threats always come back. A small footprint of well-trained and resourced advisers can make a big impact.”
However, Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, the head of the Africa Command, said in recent congressional testimony that the L.R.A. “does not currently threaten U.S. or western interests in the region.”
Senator Jim Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican who is the mission’s staunchest supporter in Congress, said that the hunt could continue effectively at smaller troop levels with an increased emphasis on intelligence.
“The military feels, and I can’t argue, that they can cut back on some of their resources and still handle the part that’s going to be necessary to ultimately bring him down,” Mr. Inhofe said in a telephone interview. “He is getting much older. He is not as energetic and frenetic as he had been. He’s reduced in his level of terror.”
Some policy analysts say the United States military should continue to focus on protecting local populations.
“The L.R.A. is a wounded tiger,” said Paul Ronan, the director of research and policy at Invisible Children, which was founded in 2004 to increase awareness of L.R.A. activities. “But, even in a weakened state, it poses a severe threat.”
“A premature withdrawal of U.S. and Ugandan troops from eastern C.A.R. would create a security vacuum there that could enable a surge of violence against civilians, both by the L.R.A. and by other armed groups,” Mr. Ronan added, referring to Central African Republic.
In June 2016, the Uganda People’s Defense Force announced its troops would be withdrawn from the missions by the end of the year, but then reversed course. According to the African Union Commission, Uganda has provided the bulk of the African Union forces — about 2,000 of 3,085 — with most deployed in southeastern Central African Republic. A Ugandan military officer based in Obo, Central African Republic, said that Ugandan forces were likely to depart when the Americans leave.
A withdrawal of Ugandan troops would make the hunt for Mr. Kony even tougher, requiring “much more direct cooperation with the Sudanese government,” Mr. Ronan said. However, he added that he did not have “any indication that the Sudanese are willing to cooperate at that level.”
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