Kony, a Ugandan guerrilla who began his uprising in the 1980s, long ago ordered his followers to stop using radios and cellphones to avoid leaving an electronic trail. Nowadays, officials said, his 200 or so fighters rely on foot messengers and preordained rendezvous points to communicate.
Kony’s methods have proven effective against the U.S. military’s satellites, sensors and other forms of surveillance. Commanders warn that it could take years to find him.
“They’re on the run,” Capt. Kenneth S. Wright, a Navy SEAL who leads the overall U.S. search effort, said last week. “This is not going to be an easy slog. Knock wood, maybe we get lucky. But by experience this is going to be a persistent engagement.”
Since October, U.S. troops have fanned out to five outposts in four countries, advising thousands of troops from Uganda, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Congo who are hunting Kony across a territory the size of California. In Obo, the terrain is so remote that it took the U.S. military four months to carve out its jungle camp.
For the first time, American military officials provided details of their hunt for Kony in extensive interviews over the past week in Africa and Europe. The interviews culminated Sunday with a visit to Obo, where the military arranged for journalists to arrive on chartered Cessnas, scattering stray dogs while landing on a makeshift dirt runway.
A team of about 20 Green Berets from the U.S. Army has set up camp in Obo, a remote town in the southeastern corner of the impoverished Central African Republic. The military would not permit journalists to tour the American camp — which villagers described as being protected by razor wire and cameras — but granted interviews with the local U.S. commander and security forces from Uganda and the Central African Republic who also are based here.
The Americans said they rarely leave the vicinity of their camp and do not go on patrol, leaving it to their African partners to send trackers into the bush. Instead, they spend most of their days in meetings with African troops and local officials, guiding operations and offering technical advice.
The U.S. forces carry arms but are not permitted to engage in combat, except in self-defense. They said they have not encountered any of Kony’s forces directly.