Director and Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow has written an op-ed to urge the United States to continue to defend the elephants who are on the brink of extinction, all because of their pricey tusks. What a heartbreaker that is. Bigelow writes:
Despite its diminishing numbers, the LRA poses a formidable threat to security in the region, with a new method of terror that doubles as an income stream. LRA fighters operate under the cover of Garamba’s lush green canopy where they slaughter elephants for ivory, creatures that are now in a crisis of impending extinction due to poaching.
Kony orders his fighters to bring him ivory to bolster his coffers as the LRA fights to survive. The LRA’s strongholds in Garamba’s deep forests also help grease the wheels of a complex cross-border trafficking machine that strengthens other murderous groups, such as Seleka in Central African Republic and the Janjaweed in Sudan.
Each tusk, in the end, generates as much as $175,000 for trafficking kingpins, traders, foot-soldiers, and Kony himself. Wildlife experts have said if pressure on the LRA is reduced, Congo could lose its elephants altogether.
Owing to its successes, the U.S. support to the regional counter-LRA mission is being seen as a model for light-footprint, advise-and-assist U.S. military engagement elsewhere in the world, including the operations against Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab. But this mission can’t be treated as a model for future engagement if it doesn’t ultimately succeed.
The United States should maintain a robust supportive role in the counter-LRA mission to finish the job, ensuring that a dwindling regional threat does not come roaring back. To reduce U.S. assistance to the mission now would irreparably damage the effort steps before the finish line. It would allow all positive momentum in the fight to unravel, and abandon civilians still in captivity.
The fate of the man and his daughter abducted from Garamba’s Were River is unknown. Given LRA patterns, it is likely that the daughter was used as a sex slave, the temporary “wife” of one of the fighters. The man was likely forced to work as a porter, transporting materials like the sawed-off tusk of a slaughtered elephant.
If the U.S. draws down its support to the counter-LRA mission now, the majesty of Garamba’s forests and other remote areas throughout the region will serve as a safe haven to brutal criminals, rather than the civilians and wildlife that deserve to live there in peace.
In a region mired in complex transnational terrorism, trafficking, and violence, this model of atrocity prevention is showing promise. Now is the time to dig in, not walk away.