WASHINGTON: The United States has no plans to send troops to Nigeria to help recover hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in an interview broadcast on Sunday.
“There’s no intention, at this point, to (put) American boots on the ground,” Hagel told ABC television’s “This Week” program. Washington last week sent a team of military advisers as part of an international effort to help Nigeria find the girls, who were abducted nearly a month ago by the extremist Islamic group.
The US defense chief was far from upbeat about chances of finding the girls. “It will be very difficult. It’s a vast country. This is not going to be an easy task,” Hagel said, in the interview recorded Saturday. “We’re going to bring to bear every asset we can possibly use to help the Nigerian government,” he said.
Boko Haram, whose name is loosely translated as “Western education is forbidden” kidnapped the girls from their dormitory on April 14, and has threatened to sell them. The incident has drawn worldwide outrage, including from US President Barack Obama. First Lady Michelle Obama in a recorded message on Saturday condemned the kidnappings as “unconscionable.”
Meanwhile, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby warned Sunday of the difficulties of negotiating with an “utterly merciless” group like Boko Haram, but called for active contact with the Nigerian Islamists over their abduction of scores of schoolgirls.
Welby has experience of negotiating with violent groups in the Niger Delta in southern Nigeria, and with a predecessor to Boko Haram around Maiduguri, the capital of northeastern Borno state where the group started out. In an interview with BBC radio about the fate of more than 200 schoolgirls seized by the Islamist group last month, the archbishop said the girls faced a “colossal” risk. “They’re in the hands of a very disparate group which is extremely irrational and difficult to deal with and utterly merciless in the example it’s shown in the past, and it must be a huge concern,” he said. Asked if it is possible to talk to groups like Boko Haram, he said: “They’re in many layers. You have a very, very difficult inner core. and I think negotiation there is extremely complicated, though it needs to be tried. “Then it goes out and out in different layers of commitment and understanding and involvement.
“There needs to be active negotiation, active contact with all the different layers.” He said Boko Haram has “always been a mixture of groups united as much by a common enemy as by a common cause”. Supporters turn to them because of immense poverty, high youth unemployment and the group’s promises of social change delivered through the barrel of a gun, he said. Welby, a former oil executive who joined the Church in his 30s, was careful not to criticise too strongly the response of the Nigerian government security forces. The leader of the world’s Anglicans noted their loss of control over large parts of northeastern Nigeria, despite a huge commitment of force. “There needs to be effective police and security action across that area, and that is a huge challenge for the Nigerian government and one that we should not underestimate,” he said. He added: “We’re talking about a massive area and a longstanding history of ethnic difference, of conflict with other Muslim groups.” Asked about allegations of human rights abuses by the military, he said he had no firsthand evidence but viewed the reports “with great concern”.
Meanwhile, Israel offered Nigeria help on Sunday in locating 200 schoolgirls abducted last month by Islamist rebel group Boko Haram in an attack that has drawn global condemnation and prompted some Western powers to provide assistance.
“Israel expresses deep shock at the crime against the girls,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office quoted him as telling Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan by phone. “We are ready to help in finding the girls and fighting the cruel terrorism inflicted on you.”
The statement did not elaborate on how Israel might enlist in the search, with which British and US experts are also helping.
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