Operation Observant Compass
US military operations against the Lord's Resistance Army in central Africa are "coming to an end," a top American general said on 24 March 2017, even though its brutal leader Joseph Kony has not been captured. "This operation, although not achieving the ability to get to Kony himself, has essentially taken that group off the battlefield," said General Thomas Waldhauser, head of the US military's Africa Command. The LRA has killed more than 100,000 people and kidnapped 60,000 children in a three-decade-long rebellion spanning northern Uganda, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo. The top US military commander said the LRA has been reduced to "irrelevance" after years of joint military operations have killed most of its forces.
Operation Observant Compass is the name of the deployment of US forces to Uganda and other countries in central Africa to counter the Lord's Resistance Army (C-LRA). The force provider to the operation's US Africa Command (AFRICOM) C-LRA Control Element (ACCE) for the operation is the Special Operations Command and Control Element - Horn of Africa (SOCCE-HOA), the special operations forces component of AFRICOM's Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA). The US effort is to help a 4-nation partnership (South Sudan, Uganda, Central Africa Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo) counter the LRA, a mission that includes training, funding, airlift, logistics, communications and intelligence support, specifically, fusing intelligence and support to operations.
The deployment was the latest in a line of increasingly strong responses by the US government to the threat posed to the region by the Lord's Resistance Army. On 24 May 2010, President Barack Obama announced that he had signed the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009 into law. The bill was said to recognize and strength US commitments and capabilities to protect and assist civilians in areas where the LRA were operating, to receive those LRA members who surrender, and to support efforts to bring the LRA leadership to justice. The bill also reiterated US policy and commitment to work toward a comprehensive and lasting resolution to the conflict in northern Uganda and other affected areas, including northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, southern Sudan (South Sudan formally declared its independence from Sudan on 9 July 2011), and the Central African Republic. The US made clear that it intended to do so in partnership with regional governments and multilateral efforts.
On 12 October 2011, President Barack Obama announced that he had authorized the deployment of combat-equipped US forces, said to be primarily US special operations forces personnel, to central Africa. There they would help regional forces fight the notorious Lord's Resistance Army and its leader, Joseph Kony. A total of 100 service members and civilians were to deploy to the region during the month, including a second combat-equipped team and headquarters, communications and logistics personnel. The US forces were not to engage LRA forces unless necessary for self-defense, and were primarily to be involved in training local military forces in Uganda, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan. Foreign internal defense is a traditional mission of US Army Special Forces personnel. The personnel deployed would be sent to regional capitals and other areas to work with governments, their militaries, and the peacekeeping missions in order for these forces to counter the LRA threat and protect civilians. The State Department would oversee the 3 other parts of the plan: to protect civilians, disarm and dismantle the LRA, and provide humanitarian relief to areas affected by the guerrilla militia.
On 25 October 2011, Alexander Vershbow, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the deployed forces were expected to remain in the region for months, not years. After the unspecified period, the advisors would report on whether significant progress had been made and then a decision would be made on whether or not there would be a continuing commitment.
The deployment was part of an larger overall effort announced by President Barack Obama in November 2011 to defeat the LRA. The plan had 4 objectives that supported regional and multilateral efforts: (a) increase protection of civilians; (b) apprehend or remove from the battlefield Joseph Kony and senior commanders; (c) promote the defection, disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of remaining LRA fighters; and (d) increase humanitarian access and provide continued relief to affected communities. Given the necessity of bringing political, economic, military, and intelligence support to bear in addressing the threat posed by the LRA, the development of the strategy relied on the significant involvement of the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the US Agency for International Development, and the Intelligence Community. These partners were to help with the implementation of the plan. President Obama stressed that "there is no purely military solution to the LRA threat." However, his policy document notably avoided any mention of reviving peace talks with Kony. President Obama's plan noted the importance of protecting civilians still vulnerable to LRA attacks.
On 6 December 2011, Ugandan army spokesman Felix Kulayigye said that US forces had arrived in the country and were establishing their presence in affected areas. US troops were also reported to have deployed to Obo in the Central African Republic and Nzara in South Sudan. In both locations the Ugandan army also had a presence as part of the regional effort to combat the LRA.
In testimony to the House Armed Services Committee on 29 February 2012, General Carter F. Ham, Commander of AFRICOM said that military advisors deployed to support the C-LRA mission were sensitive to the challenges of civilian protection and were incorporating protection considerations into training and operational planning support. AFRICOM was also implementing a rewards program intended to enhance information-gathering efforts throughout LRA-affected areas. US support to addressing the LRA threat was embedded within a broader strategy and complemented by civilian efforts to include encouraging members of the LRA to defect and peacefully surrender, and US military elements were working closely with the Department of State and USAID to support this initiative. General Ham said that ultimately, success in countering the LRA would depend upon the continued resolve and partnership of the affected countries as they work together to remove the LRA's top leaders from the battlefield and seek to encourage the defection and disarmament of others. C-LRA operations as part of Observant Compass were also said to be in part funded through Section 1206 of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2012, which provided the Secretary of Defense with authority to train and equip foreign military forces for 2 specified purposes: counterterrorism and stability operations. Section 1206 of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2012 allowed for logistics support, supplies, and services for countries participating in CLRA operations.
In March 2012, IRIN reported that US intelligence aircraft were flying in support of Operation Observant Compass. The aircraft, codenamed Tusker Sand, were said to be "flying over the battlefield almost every day." The Tusker Sand aircraft, operating out of Entebbe, Uganda, had been deployed to the region to provide intelligence assistance to the Uganda People's Defense Force prior to the start of Operation Observant Compass.
On 11 July 2012, the US Army Contracting Command - Rock Island (ACC-RI) issued a request for proposals for rotary wing airlift support services to Department of Defense personnel in the Central African region, which was defined as Uganda, Central Africa Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo
(DRC), and the South Sudan. This contract, for at least 2 helicopters and associated materiel and support services, was in support of SOCAFRICA and Operation Observant Compass. The final contract award would include all personnel, equipment, supplies, transportation, tools, materials, supervision, insurance, life support (e.g. housing,meals, etc.) and other items and services necessary to perform rotary-wing aircraft in the Central African region. Authorized marking on all helicopters would be the selected contractor's name on each side, as well as required markings, such as tail numbers. It was also stated to be in the best interest of all parties that aircraft not be painted in a color that was close to military colors and paint schemes and a scheme involving any color other than white would be reviewed and approved by the US Government prior to deployment.
The selected contractor would perform safe rotary-wing transport from Nzara, South Sudan to designated locations in the vicinity of Obo, Central Africa Republic (CAR); Dungu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Entebbe, Uganda. The designated locations had been deemed unsuitable for existing fixed-wing assets and required a rotary-wing solution. The rotary-wing transport services would be used to move designated partnered nation forces to include the Ugandan Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF), Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA), Forces Armees Centralafricaines (FACA), and Forces Armees de la Republique Democratique du Congo (FARDC), as well as US military advisors, and equipment to include weapons and basic ammo load throughout area of responsibility.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on 7 March 2013, General Carter Ham, commander of AFRICOM, noted that in Central Africa, African troops, advised and assisted by US Special Forces, had achieved some significant tactical gains against the Lord's Resistance Army and its leader, Joseph Kony in the previous year. He also reported that there was increased levels of LRA defections, fewer LRA attacks, and enhanced cooperation between the military forces in the region.
On 1 May 2013, the US Army issued a solicitation for a contract to provide up to 140,000 liters per month of JET-A aviation fuel and associated refueling services for the support of C-145 or comparable aircraft at Nzara Landing Zone, Republic of South Sudan. Though the solicitation did not specifically mention C-LRA efforts, the recipient of the contract was listed as SOCAFRICA and Nzara was known to be an operating location for C-LRA efforts.
On 15 July 2013, United States Transportation Command's Acquisition Directorate issued a request for information to conduct market research to determine terms and conditions relevant to the acquisition of dedicated rotary-wing airlift services for movement of Department of Defense personnel and cargo in the Central African Region. The potential contractor would have to provide all personnel, equipment, supplies, facilities, transportation, tools, materials, supervision, limited security, and other items and non-personal services necessary to perform safe rotary wing transport throughout the Operation Observant Compass Area Of Responsibility, to include the countries of Uganda, Republic of South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Central Africa Republic.
The contract proposed in the July 2013 request for information called for providing 3 helicopters (to keep 2 fully mission capable at all times) and associated support for 5 months, with 5 additional option periods totaling 17 months. This appeared to be a follow-on contract to the one previously solicited by ACC-RI in 2012. The request for information stated that the contractor should plan for an accelerated flight or "surge" schedule once every 3 months for a consecutive 2 week period. The surge weeks would add not more than 60 flying hours, to be flown over the two-week surge period (not to exceed 30 combined flying hours per week; total flying hours per month were to be between 50-150 hours). A 30-day notice would be given to the Contractor prior to a surge. The base period would include 120 surge hours, and each option period would include 60 surge hours to accommodate for the accelerated flying schedule. Helicopters would be required to be able transport 12 personnel weighing 250 pounds each to include their personnel protective gear and weapons with basic ammo load. The helicopters would also have to be able to carry a maximum of 3,000 pounds of cargo internally in total. The capability to fly at night with the use of Night Vision Goggles was also required, and the request for information said only with that the capability would the Department of Defense be able to have 100 percent mission success for the Operation Observant Compass mission.
The July 2013 request for information also stated that flight missions were intended to originate and terminate in Obo, CAR on the same day. There was a standing blanket clearance agreement within the 4 countries in which the contractor would operate that stated aircraft operating in support of Operation Observant Compass were allowed into country. This agreement was worked with individual countries and included aircraft information. However, if tasked by the Department of Defense, potential contractors would be authorized to remain overnight at other locations such as Djema, Central African Republic; Nzara, Republic of South Sudan; or Dungu, Democratic Republic of Congo due to weather, maintenance, or non-routine missions. The Department of Defense would be responsible for providing support when contractors remained in a location over night, which would be provided by US special operations forces personnel.
Also on 15 July 2013, the United States Transportation Command TCAQ issued a similar request for information to conducted market research to determine terms and conditions relevant to the acquisition of dedicated fixed-wing airlift services for movement of Department of Defense personnel and cargo in the Central African Region, defined as Uganda, Central Africa Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan. Though the fixed wing aircraft were said to be tasked only in direct support of AFRICOM, rather than specifically to Operation Observant Compass, the request for information stated that Obo and Djema in the Central African Republic would be considered routine locations for potential contractors. These locations were known staging bases for support of Operation Observant Compass and the contract was later confirmed to be primarily in support of this operation. Aircraft would, however, be based at Entebbe in Uganda. The request for information outlined a 7 month base period, with 5 option periods totaling an additional 15 months. The contractor provided fixed wing aircraft, 2 of which would be fully mission capable at any one time, would be capable of carrying a maximum of 2,000 pounds of cargo, including up to 7 passengers with individual equipment. Potential cargo would include items categorized in the the following hazardous classes: 1.4S (small arms ammunition), 1.3G (signal flares), 1.4G (smoke grenades), 1.4B (blasting caps), 1.4D (rockets), 1.1F (mines), 1.1D (explosive charges), 3.0 (aviation and mogas), and class 9 (lithium batteries and small portable generators).
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