Media reports had suggested that as many as 80 U.S. military personnel joined their counterparts from France and the United Kingdom to assist Nigeria’s embattled military in its fight with Boko Haram – a violent Muslim sect that has vowed to install an Islamist government in the oil-rich African country. Most of the U.S. forces consist of Air Force personnel who will conduct surveillance flights and operate drone aircraft but will not participate in ground searches. According to a White House statement, “These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area.” The unit will remain in neighboring Chad, “until its support resolving the kidnapping is no longer required.”
To these are to be added, according to a May 27 news release, elements of the California National Guard (CNG) who will travel to Nigeria in the coming weeks to “continue providing assistance and training to the Nigerian armed forces. The effort, part of the National Guard’s State Partnership Program, gives the CNG the opportunity to share best practices with Nigerian leaders to improve security procedures, rule of law, aviation maintenance, human rights and service member welfare.” The release stated that the California National Guard has been cooperating with Nigeria’s military since at least 2006. The CNG served with distinction in Iraq. In 2001, the 297th Medical Company was the last CNG unit to leave Iraq.
Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin, who serves as CNG Adjutant General said “…we are helping lay the foundation for peace in Africa.” CNG soldiers will join other U.S. personnel and work with Nigeria’s armed forces to strengthen “their leadership and military decision-making skills, land navigation and marksmanship.” Nigeria’s armed forces and police have been roundly criticized by fellow citizens for their apparent inability to control Boko Haram. The terrorists have galvanized international opinion by abducting 276 mostly Christian girls and compelling them to convert to Islam. The fear that the girls are being sold into slavery, or compelled to marry against their will, has been voiced.
Thousands of people worldwide, including Michelle Obama and Hollywood celebrities such as Sylvester Stallone and Harrison Ford, have resorted to the Twitter hashtag #bringbackourgirls to call upon the terrorists to release the girls. According to recent media reports, U.S. special forces commanders are concerned that they are being pressured and guilted into rescuing the girls. While no specific order for a rescue mission is known publicly to have been given, Special Operations commanders fear that such an order may become a political necessity for the Obama administration.
According to NBC News, two senior Special Operations commanders in charge of the SEALs, and the Army’s Delta Force and Ranger Regiment, are preparing their operators under the assumption that eventually “the hashtag will bring us out.” They said, “We’re being tweeted into combat,” said a military official to NBC News. “The White House is sensitive that the outcome may be the loss of both the teams and the hostages,” said an NBC News military source, who added, “There is a logic building that it took U.S. 10 years to search for Osama bin Laden and then we found him, so why not spend a few months looking for the girls in Nigeria and find them too?”
Drones and surveillance aircraft have been directed to assist in the search for the girls, according to a Pentagon spokesman. White House spokesman Jay Carney said this week, “at this point, we’re not actively considering the deployment of U.S. forces to participate in a combined rescue mission.” U.S. Special Forces would face enormous tactical challenges in an attempt to rescue so many hostages, who are hidden in a remote jungle area dominated by Boko Haram. Among the challenges, say experts, is in obtaining accurate and complete information about the location of the hostages, as well as the size and disposition of the terrorists. While a Nigerian official has recently claimed to know the girls’ current location, the U.S. has not yet confirmed the report. To accomplish a rescue mission, very close cooperation among multiple special forces teams would be required. Any communication between one rebel camp and another during the operation could jeopardize the lives of the girls and the American military personnel. Special Forces commanders fear that the operation could indeed bring about the deaths of some, if not most, of the girls in a raid that would significantly more difficult that the spectacular night raid that resulted in the death of terrorist Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
U.S. personnel are serving elsewhere in Africa, assisting the government of Uganda in capturing Joseph Kony – the leader of a violent militant group that has forced children into combat roles, raping and killing women and girls. A film, ‘Kony 2012’, has been largely credited for pressuring the U.S. to respond in that case. The film was view approximately 100 million times online.
Boko Haram’s attacks continue. On May 26, a bomb attack killed at least 130 people in Jos –a city that has already seen scores of deaths caused by car bombs and other armed attacks.
Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.