The United States manned and unmanned aircrafts are currently in Nigeria taking part in the hunt for the missing school girls as the search intensifies.
US officials are frustrated at not being able to act as Boko Haram have threatened to sell the girls as sex slaves.
“Images from US surveillance drones and satellites over the last week has shown suspected bands of Boko Haram militants setting up temporary camps and moving through isolated villages and along dirt tracks in north eastern Nigeria,” the report quoted US officials as saying.
The images have been shared with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan`s Abuja government.
“But Nigeria’s security forces are hampered by poor equipment and training and have failed to respond quickly,” said a US official familiar with the growing search operation.
The girls are believed to have been split into several groups as Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau announced some of the girls would be released in exchange for members of his group who are imprisoned.
“In general, Nigeria has failed to mount an effective campaign against Boko Haram,” Alice Friend, the Pentagon’s principal director for Africa, told committee members. “In the face of a new and more sophisticated threat than it has faced before, its security forces have been slow to adapt with new strategies, new doctrines and new tactics.”
US Secretary of State, John Kerry, called the kidnapping of hundreds of girls an “unconscionable crime,” vowing to do “everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes and to hold the perpetrators to justice.
“I will tell you, my friends, I have seen this scourge of terror across the planet, and so have you. They don’t offer anything except violence,” he said in a statement. “They just tell people, ‘You have to behave the way we tell you to,’ and they will punish you if you don’t.”
Parents of the abducted girls have expressed their disappointment in that the location of the militants and the girls was reported days after the kidnapping but that security forces did not respond.
“I think a rescue is currently unlikely and unfeasible,” said Jacob Zenn, a Boko Haram expert at US counter-terrorism institution, CTC Sentinel.
The Sambisa forest, Boko Haram’s stronghold, is a first target but it is not conducive to aerial search because it covers 60,000 square kilometres (23,000 square miles), more than twice the size of Rwanda. The rebels know this area intimately and could spread the girls among local families, making them virtually undetectable by conventional security forces.
According to US national security sources, initially, the girls were separated into around three large groups but were subsequently scattered in smaller groups. Other experts said they could be in mountains near Gwoza on the Cameroon border.
If this is the case, some girls might be found before others, posing a dilemma for would-be rescuers.
“In the past, Boko Haram has threatened, and maybe actually gone ahead with, killing hostages upon sensing the hint of possible rescue operations,” said a security source. Rescuing some girls could add to danger faced by others still captive.
A senior US Defence Department official criticised Nigeria on Thursday for being too slow to adapt to the threat of Boko Haram.
Even coordinating an international effort faces difficulties in Nigeria, which recently overtook South Africa as the continent’s biggest economy. Nigeria has close ties with Western powers but has historically resisted foreign military involvement on its soil.
It is believed that President Jonathan had ruled out any prisoner exchange for the girls’ release to which Nigerian officials declined to comment.
Boko Haram is faceless and even Shekau heads just one of several loosely coordinated groups with differing objectives, said a senior official with knowledge of the northeast.
There has been a lot of criticism in the delay in rescuing the girls since their location was revealed several days ago and because they are believed to be now on the move.
The US military can only assist and advise in the rescue mission and cannot actively take part as Nigeri has to be in control.
In the event of the girls being found, it would have to be the Nigerians who take the lead and devise a rescue plan and execute it with US assistance.
The Nigerian military is capable of carrying out a rescue operation, but there are concerns because it has been heavy-handed in the past and killed many civilians, the sources said.
The US law prohibits the US military from working with Nigerian military units that have been accused of abuses, a senior State Department official said.
“We’ve been very clear about our concerns about the Nigerian reports of and evidence of abuses by the Nigerian military,” the official said.
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