Did the U.S. engineer an African military operation?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote enthusiastically about the tri-government military operation that Uganda, Congo, and Southern Sudan were undertaking to root out the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Unfortunately, since then, things haven't been going well. The LRA managed to survive the initial military onslaught, and went on to massacre as many as 900 civilians since the military offensive began in mid-December. Joseph Kony, the group's notorious leader, is still alive and well. (While the LRA's deputy commander is set to surrender soon, it was Kony's death or capture that was the main point of the endeavor.)


Yet, just when this military venture was about to fizzle out with its primary objective still not met, an interesting piece of news, courtesy of the New York Times, has now thrown the operation back into the spotlight. On Feb. 7, the Times reported that the United States, through the Pentagon's newly minted Africa Command (or Africom), was heavily involved in the planning of the operation -- supplying intelligence, supplies, and more than a million dollars in fuel aid. According to the Times:

The Ugandan government asked the American Embassy in Kampala, Uganda's capital, for help, and the request was sent up the chain of command in November to President Bush, who personally authorized it, a former senior Bush administration official said."

Given the number of civilian massacres that have occurred since the start of the operation -- massacres that happened because no one adequately secured the villages in the area -- this could potentially be embarrassing for Africom and the Pentagon.

I asked Vince Crawley, chief of public information at Africom, to comment on the claims made by the New York Times. He responded by emphasizing that the United States was involved only in an advisory capacity and that "this wasn't a U.S. plan that Uganda carried out. It was a Ugandan plan that would have taken place regardless of U.S. assistance." With regard to the securing of villages in the area, Crawley said,

There was dialogue on how to protect the areas. There was discussion. Again, it's not a U.S. operation. ... Fundamentally, it's not appropriate for us to comment on the strategies and tactics of other nations. That's not what partners do."

Even with U.S. help, the LRA won't be easy to stamp out. Check out our new list of five other rebel groups around the world that have demonstrated remarkable staying power.



The Korean company stuck in the middle of Madagascar's unrest

When violence erupted in the island nation of Madagascar two weeks ago, few would have guessed that South Korean conglomerate Daewoo Logistics was partly to blame (or at least, there to take the blame). Daewoo won claim to plant corn on a Qatar-sized portion of Madagascar last November. And a leader of the protests says the deal is one reason for revolt.

The island leased its land to Daewoo for free for 99 years, claiming the benefit of jobs for Madagascar and a boost in investor confidence. Madagascar was cultivating its image as an island haven for peace, tourism, and investment. That is, until the seeds of civil war sprung up last month. Now, Daewoo says its plans are on hold.

About two weeks ago, a feisty opposition party mayor (and former DJ), Andry Rajoelina, proclaimed the government illegitimate and made his own move for power. In addition to organizing mass protests, Rajoelina even claimed to be the true president, that is until the current holder of that job fired him. So far, 100 people have died in violence between protesters and government forces.

So it wasn't that Daewoo didn't see this coming; it just inadvertently contributed to the mess. Years of poverty and a less-than-stellar government were enough for most Malagasies, so watching their land handed freely to South Korea was a bit over the top. "They sold the country's territory to foreign companies," Rajoelina complained to French Radio. "For these [and other] reasons, we demand a transitional government."

Now Daewoo's corn-to-feed-Korea project and Madagascar's government are both on the rocks. The opposition has named its own ministers and called for a general strike. But if Rajoelina gets his way (or even if he doesn't), I'm guessing Daewoo won't be the only company running for the coast.

Photo: WALTER ASTRADA/AFP/Getty Images