The aid the United States will provide to Nigeria to get back nearly 300 kidnapped girls will probably be limited to helping the Nigerians find the village in the remote forest where they are being held, experts said Wednesday.
Johnnie Carson, former assistant secretary of State for African Affairs under President Obama, said the United States can offer satellite and air surveillance through drones, as well as bring in military advisers to help units of the Nigerian military.
The United States would have to vet the units it works with to ensure they meet U.S. human rights standards, Carson said from the Nigerian capital, Abuja, during a call set up by the Council on Foreign Relations.
He said the hurdle of helping Nigeria beat back the Islamist terrorists who kidnapped the girls and committed other atrocities has been the government itself. Carson said Nigeria has rejected U.S. offers of military-type assistance.
“This is a proud country with a professional military and intelligence service. Sometimes they accept things, and sometimes they don’t,” he said.
Paul Sullivan, professor of economics at National Defense University in Washington, said the United States could bring powerful search-and-destroy tools to the Nigerian effort.
“We have drones for surveillance, drones for attack, special operations troops, other surveillance and support options and more,” Sullivan said. “We could make life a misery for Boko Haram,” the terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the kidnappings.
President Obama has said nothing about providing “boots on the ground” to assist in fighting that may occur in confronting Boko Haram on its home territory.
Before it gets “sucked into” a mess, the Pentagon will probably want to assess the situation, Sullivan said.
“One of the first steps to the U.S. getting involved militarily is to send military advisers,” Sullivan said. “They will encounter unexpected events and Nigeria’s plethora of languages, cultures and political ideologies.”
The first task for the U.S. team would be to marshal Nigeria’s best intelligence on the girls’ locations, then help organize a search-and-rescue operation, he said. The girls are probably spread over multiple locations, making it more difficult to find and rescue them.
“The tough part is what to do when you find out where they are,” Sullivan said.
A military attack could result in the girls being murdered, as Boko Haram has done to hostages in past rescue operations. Buying off Boko Haram could have political repercussions.
“It’s going to be very very messy,” Sullivan said. “If they can pull this off with nobody killed and nobody injured, this is going to be miraculous.”
U.S. analysts view Nigeria’s handling of the Boko Haram insurgency as another example of the government’s failure to address legitimate grievances in the country’s mostly Muslim north. The north suffers from poor access to clean water, health care, education and jobs to a much greater degree than the more affluent and mostly Christian south.
“There is a growing sense of extreme marginalization in the north,” Carson said. “There is a concern that government in Abuja doesn’t care about their situation.”