The impact. Security observers, however, expressed worry that this might give the rebels a chance to reorganise for fresh attacks.
Kampala- The Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) have begun withdrawing from the military offensive against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels in Central African Republic (CAR).
The UPDF troops are withdrawing from their forward bases and are gathering at their tactical base in Obo, eastern CAR before the final withdrawal back to Uganda.
Military sources told Sunday Monitor that the troops are moving from Sam-Oundja in the far northeast of the Central African Republic near the border with Sudan and Nzako, about 490km northeast of the capital Bangui.
The Chief of Defence Forces, Gen Katumba Wamala, confirmed the UPDF pullout from forward bases to Obo, but said there was no definite date yet for the final withdrawal from CAR to Uganda.
“We are still talking to our American partners and CAR government to see if we can train a force to replace us,” Gen Katumba told Sunday Monitor on Friday.
From Obo, the troops will move to their rear base in Nzara in South Sudan before finally moving to Uganda.
Security observers, however, expressed worry that the withdrawal of the two battalions that have been hunting LRA and their elusive leader Joseph Kony for about three years might give the rebels a chance to resume their civilian abductions, train fighters and reorganise for fresh attacks.
The UPDF 11th Battalion was based in Nzako and the 43rd Battalion in Sam-Oundja.
For the last three years, Kony was suspected to be hiding in Kafia Kingi in CAR, but reportedly fled before the UPDF offensive in the area between February and April. Kony is now suspected to be hiding in southern Darfur in Sudan.
It is not clear whether the American troops that have been working with UPDF to hunt Kony will remain after the Ugandan troops have left.
In 2010, the US government sent 100 Special Forces soldiers to support UPDF in intelligence gathering on LRA activities in CAR.
In 2012, regional governments agreed to form a Regional Task Force (RTF) under the African Union in a joint initiative to fight LRA, but UPDF has been the only active force hunting the rebels in the jungles of CAR.
Forces from DR Congo, South Sudan and Central African Republic, were supposed to deploy under the RTF but none has because of internal conflicts.
The LRA strength is estimated at between 150-200 fighters, with less than 130 armed.
Security sources say the bigger LRA group is moving from CAR to DR Congo.
The military sources say three LRA groups commanded by Lowila, Aligac and Acaye are already in the DR Congo. Other groups under the command of Odoki Gwe and Larwodo are said to be in Mboki areas heading towards DRC.
The UPDF launched Operation Lightning Thunder on December 14, 2008 using air and ground troops to flush out LRA and its leader Joseph Kony (pictured) from their bases in Garamba, DR Congo. Two years later, the LRA crossed to CAR and UPDF followed them up to areas bordering Chad. Thousands of abductees have been rescued and hundreds of rebels killed since 2008 after the UPDF extended its operations beyond Garamba to CAR.