US sends Nigeria help in search for missing girls

05/07/2014 4:52 PM

05/08/2014 10:58 AM

The U.S. ambassador to Nigeria was meeting today with Nigeria’s national security advisor to coordinate assistance to the country as it looks for more than 200 girls and young women kidnapped by a terrorist group, the White House said.

The White House has promised military, law enforcement and information-sharing assistance and a team at the embassy in Abuja is available to provide support, officials said, but it remains uncertain how much assistance the government of Nigeria will accept.

White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said the Department of Justice and FBI are also prepared to provide technical assistance, including forensics assistance and expertise with hostage negotiations and the U.S. Agency for International Development is preparing assistance for the families of those who have had girls kidnapped by the group, Boko Haram.

“If there is additional assistance that can be provided, we will provide it,” Earnest said.

But Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., who chairs the House Foreign Affairs committee, questioned whether the response was enough to “sufficiently combat Boko Haram’s long-term threat to the region and U.S. interests.” Royce said he plans to convene a hearing on the matter next week.

“The administration should develop a strategic, multifaceted approach to help Nigeria combat Boko Haram,” Royce said. “An integral component of this strategy must include robust security assistance and intelligence sharing with Nigeria. The interagency framework should also stress regional security coordination, since the group’s cross-border activities have increased in recent years, particularly in Niger and Cameroon. It is clear that a piecemeal approach to Boko Haram, with limited U.S. military involvement, has been ineffective to date.”

And Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she hoped a team of experts would be "just the first step.

"I would support whatever actions are necessary to locate, capture and eliminate the terrorists responsible for this reprehensible act," Feinstein said.

Nigeria, however, has often been reluctant to accept U.S. assistance in dealing with Boko Haram, said Johnnie Carson, a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace and a former assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs under Obama.

“In the past they’ve have been reluctant to embrace all of the advice and recommendations that have been made on this because they believe that they have had a handle on the problems and been making progress,” Carson said. “They also believe as a large nation they are capable of managing these issues themselves. But time has shown the problem has not gotten better.”

U.S. assistance is likely to be limited to technical assistance, said John Campbell, a senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria under President George W. Bush

“In the past the Nigerians have been reluctant to accept U.S. assistance,” Campbell said. “I think it is highly unlikely that there would be large numbers of Americans going into Nigeria. Whatever assistance we might provide and that might be welcomed is likely to be essentially technical.”

Campbell said the group has no unified command and control, which makes it difficult to apply legislation that targets terrorist groups. The U.S. last year declared it a a foreign terrorist organization, which effectively cuts the organization off from U.S. financial institutions and enables banks to freeze assets here in the United States.

But both experts said Boko Haram has zero assets in the U.S., and finances its attacks largely through small scale bank robberies and kidnappings.

The Pentagon said Wednesday it would be sending 10 uniformed personnel to Nigeria, but the White House has said it’s not considering sending troops.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the department expects additional personnel to be arriving in the next few days.

She said Kerry, who spoke with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan believes U.S. assistance wasn’t “just accepted in theory. They did accept our assistance, and there will need to be a discussion about how to best coordinate moving forward, but that will be happening in the coming days.”

Psaki said counterterrorism assistance to Nigeria because of threats like Boko Haram has focused on information sharing and improving Nigeria’s forensics and investigative capacity, including $3 million last year in law enforcement assistance to boost capacity.

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