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Rift Valley Institute

Making local knowledge work

Can General Linder’s Special Operations Forces Stop the Next Terrorist Threat?

Areas of Concern: American troops are working with African militaries to help counter Boko Haram and the Lord's Resistance Army, led by the fugitive Joseph Kony.….The U.S. military can sometimes seem unaware of how inaccessible their African counterparts are to their own civilians. African militaries often serve corrupt dictators and routinely commit grave human rights abuses. In Nigeria, the military is essentially an oil-skimming operation so dysfunctional that it has been unable to act on U.S. and foreign intelligence provided in the search for the abducted schoolgirls. According to Human Rights Watch, the joint task force of the Nigerian military assigned to battle Boko Haram “has engaged in excessive use of force, physical abuse, secret detentions, extortion, burning of houses, stealing money during raids and extrajudicial killings of suspects.” In South Sudan, where civil war is raging, the U.S. has trained the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in the fight against Joseph Kony, the maniacal leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. “Since the conflict began last December,” says John Ryle of the Rift Valley Institute, an independent research organization, “the South Sudan government has been criticized for the involvement of the S.P.L.A. in ethnic killings.” Once hard skills have been transferred, it’s difficult to predict how they will be used.

The military is well aware of this predicament. “We’re intent on training African forces to operate under the rule of law, respect human rights and serve the population,” says Gen. Carter Ham, a former commander of Africom, but the mission is far from complete. “We’ve got to talk more at the senior-leader level about the real role of militaries in free societies.” 

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