U.S. to Aid Nigeria in Rescuing Schoolgirls Kidnapped by Militants

By:  Warren Mass
U.S. to Aid Nigeria in Rescuing Schoolgirls Kidnapped by Militants

During a press briefing on May 6, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that Secretary of State John Kerry has called Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan “to reiterate our offer of assistance” in the rescue of the schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamist terrorists of the Boko Haram group.

The militants have kidnapped 329 schoolgirls in Borno State, of which 53 have escaped and 276 remain in captivity. The girls were abducted from the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School during an April 14 raid.

Borno is located in far northeastern Nigeria, a stronghold of Boko Haram. The New York Times reported back on May 14, 2013 that President Jonathan had declared a state of emergency across much of the nation’s northeast, promising to send more troops to fight what he said is now an open rebellion. As noted by Agence France-Presse, Jonathan's administration has sought to appear more engaged with the plight of the hostages in recent days, especially after Boko Haram chief Abubakar Shekau released a video threatening to sell the girls as "slaves."

During a May 5 briefing, Carney said, “The president has been briefed several times and his national security team continues to monitor the situation there closely. The State Department has been in regular touch with the Nigerian government about what we might do to help support its efforts to find and free these young women.”

On May 6, President Obama described the kidnappings as “outrageous” and “heartbreaking” and said that Nigeria has agreed to accept U.S. law enforcement and military assistance.

“We’ve already sent in a team to Nigeria. They’ve accepted our help through a combination of military, law enforcement and other agencies who are going in, trying to identify where in fact these girls might be and provide them help,” the president told ABC News.

In an appearance on the BBC’s Today program, U.K. Foreign Office Minister Mark Simmonds said his government had offered “planning support” to Nigerian authorities and that British officials were in Washington to coordinate assistance efforts with the U.S. government. Simmonds told the BBC:

The forest area where the girls are rumored to be being held is 60,000 sq km [23,166 square miles]. It’s an area of hot dry scrub forest 40 times the size of London; it's a wild territory, very difficult for land and air-based surveillance operations to take place ... you have extremely porous borders with neighboring countries — Chad, Cameroon, Niger — so there are very serious challenges.

The BBC posted an analysis of the ongoing abduction by Jacob Zenn, the African Affairs analyst at the Washington-D.C.-based Jamestown Foundation, who wrote that Boko Haram has been abducting girls for the past one and a half years, but the Chibok School kidnapping was on a much larger scale than anything the terrorists have done previously. “It should also be noted,” wrote Zenn, “that Boko Haram began this tactic when the Nigerian security forces also began kidnapping, or rather taking as prisoners, the wives and children of Boko Haram members.”

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Photo of protestors in front of the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, D.C., urging U.S. involvement: AP Images

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