Members of civil-society groups shout slogans to protest the abduction of Chibok school girls during a rally pressing for the girls' release in Abuja on May 6, 2014, ahead of World Economic Forum.
The White House is moving swiftly to put in place a team at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja that can provide military, law enforcement and information-sharing assistance in support of Nigeria’s efforts to find and free the missing girls, U.S. officials told Mashable.
National Security Council spokesperson Jonathan P. Lalley said the “interdisciplinary team” will be installed with a mission to coordinate with the Nigerian government. It will include members of the Department of Justice, the FBI, USAID and approximately ten staffers from AFRICOM, a Defense Department combatant command group responsible for military relations with African nations.
U.S. Ambassador James F. Entwistle has already met with Nigeria's national security adviser to discuss what the U.S. can bring to the table, while the U.S. overseas office has been in touch with Nigerian authorities, Lalley said.
“Justice and the FBI stand ready to send additional personnel to provide technical and investigatory assistance, including expertise on hostage negotiations,” Lalley said, adding that USAID is working with partners to figure out what the U.S. can do to be ready to provide victim assistance.
“As the president and Secretary Kerry have said,” Lalley added, “we remain committed to doing everything we can to help the Nigerians find and free these girls, and help them return safely home.”
The full team is expected to arrive in Nigeria in the next few days.
Department of Defense spokesperson Lt. Col. Myles Caggins told Mashable that the AFRICOM team, part of the larger State Department-led "coordination cell" that will operate at the embassy, will have a planning and coordination role to support the Nigerian government.
The military personnel heading to the country will not, he said, physically search for the girls — or the militant Islamist group Boko Haram.
"They do not have any specific requests for coordination, yet; however, we expect some level of information-sharing with Nigerians will likely be part of their role," Caggins said. "Nothing is definitive yet."
A former State Department official told Mashable that the team will likely find a Nigerian government that is overwhelmed, and that the first question the Obama administration will likely ask them is, "What’s your solution, and what do you think is going to be the best way of getting these girls back?"
Nigeria will have some ideas, the official said, and it's better to support a Nigerian plan than to try and create one developed out of Washington that looks at the challenge from our point of view rather than theirs. This a governing philosophy that the U.S. has come to recognize as the most durable longterm solution in situations like these, following years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the official added. It's a line of thinking that has evolved over time and out of necessity.
The United States' instinct, the official said, is, "Let's rush into Nigeria and try and save the day!" But the truth is this is another tragic manifestation of a much bigger problem that exists within Islam — and it has to be resolved within Islam; it is one the Nigerians are best equipped to handle, the official added.
The girls have been missing since April 15, when a group of Islamic militants with Boko Haram (a name meaning "Western education is forbidden") stormed their high school, and took hundreds of the girls captive. Some of the girls escaped, but 274 remain missing.
Boko Haram's leader claimed credit for the kidnappings in a video on Monday that was acquired by the Associated Press.
"I abducted your girls," Abubakar Shekau, the group's leader, said in the video. "By Allah, I will sell them in the marketplace." He added that the girls should marry, and not go to school.
Nigerians have been protesting their government in recent weeks to do more to find the girls, and bring them home. People around the world have joined in, using social media to call upon officials to #BringHomeOurGirls, and express solidarity with the families.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said on Sunday, "We promise that anywhere the girls are, we will surely get them out."
"It is a trying time for this country," he added. "It is painful."