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Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner’s Remarks on Nigeria during Daily Press Briefing

By Africa Regional Media Hub
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Mark C. Toner

Deputy Spokesperson

Daily Press Briefing

Washington, DC

April 6, 2016

(Excerpt — Nigeria):

QUESTION: -- regarding the Chibok girls. What has the U.S. Government done since 2014 to help facilitate their return?

MR TONER: Right. You're talking about the — right, the Chibok girls from Nigeria. Well, it's the second anniversary, I think, coming up on that. And of course, we call for all hostages, including these young women and girls who've been held by Boko Haram, to be released immediately without preconditions. We support Nigerian efforts to bring about the safe recovery of those kidnapped and we continue to advise them on their response to this, as well as on general counterterrorism and counter-Boko Haram efforts.

And that assistance takes a number of — or is — there's a number of forms, I guess. One is intelligence training — one is intelligence, of course, training, advice on strategic communications, but also victim support services and assistance to those who have been — who have suffered under Boko Haram. I think we've given upwards of 198 million in humanitarian assistance to the populations in Nigeria that have been affected by Boko Haram's continued attacks, terrorist activity.

But it's a heartbreaking story, the situation of these young women who, as I said, were kidnapped. We continue to work and provide any assistance we can to obtain their eventual release.

QUESTION: As you said, it's been two years. Has there been any — is there any plans to ramp up efforts?

MR TONER: Ramp up efforts in this particular regard? I mean, look, we — we're working closely. I mean, this is obviously a Nigerian Government-led effort. I would say we've continued to ramp up efforts over the past couple of years, not only because of this incident but because of repeated ongoing Boko Haram terrorist activity attacks on innocent civilians across Nigeria. I think, certainly, we recognize — and this terrible kidnapping was just a very vivid and heartbreaking example of it — but we realize that there's an urgency here, that Boko Haram is exerting a terrible influence and is really a scourge on the Nigerian population.

So of course we're looking at ways that we can ramp up our support for Nigeria's security services. But as I said, also the other aspect of this is assistance — any assistance that we can provide to help the victims of these attacks, whether they're from the terrorist attacks or kidnap victims as well.

QUESTION: And --

MR TONER: Please, go ahead and finish. Yeah.

QUESTION: Sorry, one final.

MR TONER: No, that's okay.

QUESTION: And have these efforts been unilateral or have you been working with other governments outside of the Nigerian Government as well?

MR TONER: We have been working with other governments in the region as well as, I believe, some other governments. I don't have a list in front of me, but --

QUESTION: Can I get that later?

MR TONER: -- I think it's been a joint effort. We can certainly get that for you, of course.

QUESTION: Great. Thank you.

QUESTION: On the same topic — on the same topic --

MR TONER: Yes, sir. Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah. Why is Boko Haram not getting the proper attention like, let's say, ISIL and so on? Is it something that's — does it seem real far away, is it out of the public eye? Although it was the First Lady herself that basically carried a sign that said, “Bring our girls home.” Why is that? Why in your opinion?

MR TONER: So I would — just circling back to her question — I will get to you — but we do actually — another aspect of our efforts to assist in the — in — is that we do have a team in Abuja who consists of specialists on temporary assignment from a variety of U.S. Government agencies who are trying to work on assisting the Nigerian Government on this particular case.

So your question, sorry, is just --

QUESTION: My question is --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- it seems off the radar screen, Boko Haram. Although there was at the beginning a great deal of spotlighting of the issue, but then it seems to have faded away. Why is that?

MR TONER: I mean, we do speak publicly about these attacks when they take place — condemning them, obviously, very strongly. I think, as we're doing even in — against ISIL, part of the challenge in all of these is trying to build the capacity of local government and local security forces to take the fight to these terrorist groups, because that's the ultimate solution, right? I mean, we've seen it in Iraq as well is — the ultimate endgame here is to build the capacity of local authorities to deal with these terrorists. And I think that requires a lot of effort, a longer period of training and assistance, but ultimately, as I said, is the better long-term outcome — to build that capability, that capacity. And we've been doing that. That's — as I said, we've been working with the Nigerian Government over the past years.

I certainly don't want to give the impression that it's somehow off the radar screen, because they have consistently carried out, as you note, a series of terrible attacks on innocent civilians — attacking churches, attacking villages, attacking innocent civilians in a variety of circumstances — and they need to be stopped.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: And last time President Buhari of Nigeria was in Washington, or the last time he was here bilaterally — I think he attended the nuclear summit. The last time he was here bilaterally, he complained that the degree to which he received direct military assistance from the U.S. is curtailed by the Leahy Act because Nigerian security forces are not regarded as proper partners because of their human rights record. Given who else you're working with around the world — I'm thinking about the Middle East — is it still the case that you can't give as much military assistance to Nigeria as Nigeria would want, and is it in fact the case that it's the Leahy Act that restrains that, that there are concerns about the human rights records of the Nigerian forces?

MR TONER: I mean, to be perfectly honest, I'd have to — and candid, I'd have to look into those — his alleged — or his remarks about that. I can say that, just as they are in the Middle East, any military equipment or assistance we have — or we give, rather, whether — as I said, to whatever country, whether it's in the Middle East or elsewhere in Africa, is subject to Leahy vetting. That's just something that we're required by law to do, for good reason. We cannot, obviously, give military equipment to units, battalions, what have you, that have been allegedly carrying out human rights abuses. That's just something we have to do for any of this stuff.

That said, there are ways that we can still — and I believe we are working effectively with the Nigerian Government to provide them with the support they need.