LILONGWE, Malawi — A contingent of Ugandan and American military officials — and a handful of journalists — will board a plane on Tuesday in the Ugandan city of Entebbe for an approximately two-and-a-half-hour flight.
Destination: the remote town of Obo, in the southeastern part of Central African Republic, where they will take part in a ceremony organized by Uganda to mark the end of the mission to capture or kill Joseph Kony, the notorious leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, or L.R.A.
Mr. Kony was, of course, never captured or killed.
The United States spent almost $800 million on the effort since 2011, when President Barack Obama deployed Special Operations forces to the region to provide advisory support, intelligence and logistical assistance to African Union soldiers fighting the Lord’s Resistance Army. Officials from the countries involved say they have significantly degraded the L.R.A., diminishing it to around 100 people today from a fighting force of 3,000. Now, they say, it’s time to go home.
Still, when Ugandan officials informed their American counterparts that they wanted to have a ceremony to celebrate the end of the mission, some Defense Department officials at the Pentagon, mindful of “mission accomplished” ceremonies that can come back to bite celebrants, were wary. But the Ugandans were insistent, defense officials said, and the Americans offered up Brig. Gen. Kenneth H. Moore, the deputy commanding general of United States Army Africa, along with the American ambassador to the Central African Republic, Jeffrey Hawkins, to carry the flag.
The United States and the Ugandan military decided to end their search for Mr. Kony in late April, abandoning the international effort to bring him to justice. In that effort, Ugandan soldiers are accused of leaving behind their own trail of abuse, according to the United Nations peacekeeping mission, including rape, sexual slavery and the exploitation of young girls.
In Obo, the American military has already begun the so-called retrograde of its mission, which is Pentagon-speak for packing up shop and heading home, taking everything they brought with them. That means sending in planes and vehicles to haul away light infantry tents, cots, communications equipment and all of the weaponry used by the American Special Operations and Ugandan forces trying to hunt down the elusive Mr. Kony and his guerrillas.
Publicly, American officials insist the ceremony is not ill-advised, even if Mr. Kony reappears at some point, as he has done in the past. But they were not rushing to publicize it either; one American defense official attending the African Land Forces Summit meeting last week in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital, looked pained when a reporter asked about the planned ceremony. “Who told you about this?” he asked.
A few days later at the summit meeting, Maj. Gen. Joseph P. Harrington, the commander of United States Army Africa, which sponsored the meeting, was fielding a similar question. “Look, I’m not the operational commander that’s looking for Joseph Kony,” he said, when asked why Mr. Kony still had not been found. He added: “Everyone will meet their maker at some point.”
General Harrington said the mission to get Mr. Kony could be looked at, in retrospect, as a mission “to remove a regional threat,” and there, he said, the operation has been successful, degrading the Lord’s Resistance Army to where it is now.
“L.R.A. is really no longer a relevant organization,” he told reporters at a news conference on Thursday.
Mr. Kony, a self-proclaimed prophet, along with his militant force, catapulted onto the Ugandan stage in 1987 to fight President Yoweri Museveni, who at the time was into the first year of his journey to become one of Africa’s longest-reigning strongmen (he’s now on Year 31). Over the course of 19 years, the L.R.A. abducted more than 20,000 children to use as soldiers, servants or sex slaves, according to Unicef, leading to violence that displaced more than 2.5 million people.
In 2005, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Kony for crimes against humanity, and in 2008, the United States government declared him a “specially designated global terrorist.”
As recently as last year, the Treasury Department was imposing new sanctions on Mr. Kony. A Treasury statement on March 8, 2016, blamed Mr. Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army for at least 329 civilian abductions in the Central African Republic between July 2014 and July 2015. The department also accused the L.R.A. of engaging in “illicit diamonds trade, elephant poaching and ivory trafficking.”
Through all of this, Mr. Kony has managed to avoid capture. His troops operate throughout 115,000 square miles of territory in Central African Republic, South Sudan, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo — all areas of conflict where civilians have fallen prey to marauding groups of fighters.
American officials say that even though the mission to find Mr. Kony is at an end, they will keep working with African forces to stabilize the region. And, they say that the effort to find Mr. Kony has not been in vain because it has also helped build trust between American and African troops.
“Any work that we do with African militaries that teaches coordination, collaboration and multinational interoperability is not wasted time,” Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, the vice chief of staff of the Army, said in an interview in Lilongwe.
Correction: May 15, 2017
An earlier version of this article misidentified the capital of Uganda. It is Kampala, not Entebbe.
Correction: May 16, 2017
An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to a statement made by the United States Treasury on March 8, 2016 about civilian abductions in the Central African Republic. The Treasury said the Lord’s Resistance Army was responsible for at least 329 such abductions in a one-year period, July 2014 to July 2015, not 239 abductions in a two-year period, July 2014 to July 2016.