KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — A senior commander of the Lord's Resistance Army and 13 of his rebel fighters have been killed in Central African Republic, a Ugandan government official said Sunday.
Col. Samuel Kangul, believed to be the fourth in command of the Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA, was killed by Ugandan forces Thursday, using intelligence gathered by United States advisers, said Ugandan Army Deputy Spokesman Maj. Robert Ngabirano.
About 100 U.S. Special Forces experts are helping African troops to hunt down LRA leader Joseph Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Kony's LRA is accused by the United Nations and human rights groups of killing and mutilating innocent civilians and kidnapping thousands of children, forcing them to be soldiers and sex slaves.
"The killing of Kangul is of great significance for us in this operation to end Kony's atrocities. It also shows that Kony is still in the jungle," said Ngabirano.
Kangul was leading a group of about 30 fighters to join up with another group led by Dominic Ongwen, who is considered to be Kony's deputy commander, said Ngabirano. The group was intercepted at a crossing on River Vovodo and a battle ensued, he said.
Kangul was in charge the LRA's operations and logistics and he led armed raids in northern Uganda before the rebels were pushed out of that country in 2005, Ngabirano said. The Ugandan army said it seized satellite phones, 45 SIM cards, Global Positioning Systems, 9 sub-machine guns and 10,028 rounds of ammunition.
"Many others drowned in the river and we have no captives. It was an ambush laid by us. No soldier on our side died," said Ngabirano. "It shows how weak LRA is now. They are in the most vulnerable position ever."
LRA chief Kony has evaded capture for decades and became notorious in 2012 when he was featured in a viral video seen by more than 100 million people that was produced by the advocacy group Invisible Children. Kony's fighters with the Lord's Resistance Army are known for hacking off the lips and ears of their victims. The U.N. Security Council said in 2011 that more than 440,000 people across the region had been displaced.
When military pressure forced the LRA out of Uganda in 2005, the rebels scattered across parts of central Africa. Reports over the years have claimed that Kony was hiding in Sudan's Darfur region or in a remote corner of volatile Central African Republic, where LRA fighters have killed at least 33 people so far this year and abducted more than 100 others.
Last month Central African Republic's government said it is communicating with Kony, who is believed to be in the country's remote southeast.
U.S. officials and others expressed doubt the reported talks represent a breakthrough in efforts to bring him to justice. The State Department said that U.S. authorities are aware that CAR officials have been in contact "for several months" with a small LRA group "that has expressed interest in surrendering." The U.S. said it's clear the LRA is facing significant pressure from African military forces.
"At this time, we have little reason to believe that Joseph Kony is part of this group," the State Department said, adding that Kony and his senior commanders have used "any and every pretext to rest, regroup, and rearm, ultimately returning to kidnapping, and killing, displacing and otherwise abusing civilian populations."
The U.N. Security Council late last month urged new efforts to end attacks by the Lord's Resistance Army, release all people abducted by the rebel group and to send Kony to the International Criminal Court for prosecution. The council expressed serious concern that the continued instability and security vacuum in Central African Republic is hampering the operations against the LRA and may be allowing the contributing to the reinforcement of the LRA in the country.