US vows to deal with Boko Haram
…sends team to Nigeria to deal with kidnapping
President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the U.S. will do everything it can to help Nigeria find nearly 300 teenage girls missing since they were kidnapped from school three weeks ago by an Islamist extremist group that has threatened to sell them.
Obama said the immediate priority is finding the girls, but that the Boko Haram group must also be dealt with.
“In the short term our goal is obviously is to help the international community, and the Nigerian government, as a team to do everything we can to recover these young ladies,” Obama said in an interview with NBC’s “Today,” in some of his first public comments on what he said was a “terrible situation” in the West African nation.
“But we’re also going to have to deal with the broader problem of organizations like this that … can cause such havoc in people’s day-to-day lives,” Obama said of Boko Haram.
The brazen April 15 abduction has sparked international outrage and mounting demands, including by some in Washington, for Nigeria to spare no effort to find and free the girls before they can be sold into slavery or otherwise harmed.
Nigeria’s police have said more than 300 girls were abducted from their secondary school in the country’s remote northeast. Of that number, 276 remain in captivity and 53 managed to escape.
Obama said he was glad the Nigerian government was accepting help from U.S. military and law enforcement advisers.
“Obviously, what’s happening is awful, and, as a father of two girls, I can’t imagine what their parents are going through,” he told CBS News in an interview. Obama said the U.S. has long sought to work with Nigeria to contain Boko Haram.
“You’ve got one of the worst regional or local terrorist organizations in Boko Haram in Nigeria. They’ve been killing people ruthlessly for many years now and we’ve already been seeking greater cooperation with the Nigerians,” Obama said in an interview with ABC News.
He said the kidnapping and subsequent outrage over Nigeria’s inability to rescue the girls “may be the event that helps to mobilize the entire international community to finally do something against this horrendous organization that’s perpetrated such a terrible crime.”
The technical experts heading to Nigeria will include U.S. military and law enforcement personnel skilled in intelligence, investigations, hostage negotiating, information sharing and victim assistance, as well as officials with expertise in other areas, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
U.S. armed forces were not being sent, Carney noted.
Obama commented during a series of previously arranged television interviews conducted in the White House Rose Garden, shortly after the Senate passed a bipartisan resolution urging the girls’ safe and immediate return. Some lawmakers also observed a moment of silence on the Capitol steps calling for their release, and dozens of people also protested outside the Nigerian Embassy in Washington.
All 20 female senators urged Obama in a letter to pursue severe international sanctions on Boko Haram. A smaller group of mostly male senators urged Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to address the root causes of unrest in his country.
Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. had been in touch with Nigeria “from day one” of the crisis. But repeated offers of U.S. assistance were ignored until Kerry got on the phone Tuesday with Jonathan amid growing international concern and outrage over the fate of the girls in the weeks since their abduction.
Kerry said Nigeria apparently wanted to pursue its own strategy, but now realizes more needs to be done.
“I think now the complications that have arisen have convinced everybody that there needs to be a greater effort,” Kerry said at a State Department news conference. “And it will begin immediately. I mean, literally, immediately.”
A statement from Jonathan’s office said the U.S. offer “includes the deployment of U.S. security personnel and assets to work with their Nigerian counterparts in the search and rescue operation.” The statement added that Nigeria’s security agencies are working at “full capacity” to find the girls and welcomes the addition of American “counter-insurgency know-how and expertise.”
Nigeria’s Islamic extremist leader, Abubakar Shekau, has claimed responsibility for the abduction and has threatened to sell the girls. Shekau also warned that Boko Haram will attack more schools and abduct more girls. Boko Haram means “Western education is sinful.”
The State Department on Tuesday warned U.S. citizens against traveling to Nigeria.
Obama earlier called the kidnapping of nearly 300 girls in Nigeria 'awful,' and added that the U.S. will 'do everything we can' to help Nigeria.
'Obviously what's happening is awful, and as a father of two girls I can't imagine what the parents are going through,' Obama said in an interview with CBS, one of a collection of interviews the president gave to local and national TV outlets on Tuesday afternoon.
Obama said in his interview with the CBS that the White House is 'sending in a team made up of our military, and law enforcement and other experts and we're very glad that Nigeria's accepted the help.'
Obama called Boko Haram, the group that has claimed to have taken the girls as 'one of the worst, regional or local terrorist organizations in the world.' Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates in English to 'Western education is sinful,' is an Islamic terrorist group based in the Northeast region of Nigeria.
'We've long sought to work with Nigeria on dealing with them and we're going to do everything we can to assist them in recovering these young women,' the president said, adding that more work is needed in targeting the group.
'More broadly though, we're going to have to really tackle a pernicious problem inside that country - an organization that has carried out ruthless attacks and killed thousands of people over the last several years,' Obama said.
In an additional interview with ABC News. the president added, 'this may be the event that helps to mobilize the entire international community to finally do something against this horrendous organization that's perpetrated such a terrible crime.'
To NBC's Al Roker, Obama called the abductions a 'terrible situation.'
Obama's comments echo those of Secretary of State John Kerry who on Tuesday, spoke with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. Kerry said the Nigerian president welcomed the offer of U.S. aid. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters at Tuesday's briefing that Obama and Kerry were to discuss the abductions in one of their regular White House meetings, the AP reported.
Nigeria defended its response to the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls by the terror group Boko Haram, even as details emerged Tuesday about a second mass abduction, adding to a growing global outrage over the fate of the children.
President Goodluck Jonathan has been under fire over accusations the government initially ignored and then later downplayed the abduction of the girls, who have become the focal point of a social media campaign demanding their safe return.
“The President and the government (are) not taking this as easy as people all over the world think,” Doyin Okupe, a spokesman for Jonathan told CNN.
“We’ve done a lot — but we are not talking about it. We’re not Americans. We’re not showing people, you know, but it does not mean that we are not doing something.”
In detailing the government’s response, two special battalions have been devoted to the search for the missing girls, Okupe said. That includes 250 locations that have been searched by helicopters and airplanes.
It was unclear whether these were additional troops being dispatched or were forces already in place. More troops, he said, are also on the way.
But the father of two of the schoolgirls taken by Boko Haram told CNN there has been no sign of the military in the days and weeks following the abduction.
He accused the government of “playing” with the parents of the missing girls, treating them as “fools.”
“Had there been these military men who went into the bush to rescue our daughters, we would have seen them,” said the father, who declined to be identified for fear of reprisals by the government and the terror group. “…We have never seen any military man there.”