U.S. planes are conducting manned reconnaissance mission over northern Nigeria in an effort to help the government find more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram nearly a month ago.
“We have shared commercial satellite imagery with the Nigerians and are flying manned ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) assets over Nigeria with the government’s permission,” a senior administration official confirmed to BBC.
Boko Haram released a new video yesterday showing about 100 girls clad in hijabs. Terrorist leader Abubakar Shekau demanded that Boko Haram prisoners be released in exchange for the girls’ return.
The video was being studied to ensure that they are the kidnapped girls. The majority of kidnapped girls are Christian, yet the video shows girls reciting the Quran.
“These girls, these girls you occupy yourselves with… we have indeed liberated them. These girls have become Muslims,” Shekau said.
Two girls tell the camera that they used to be Christian but converted, while one of the girls says she was already Muslim.
If the girls in the video are those kidnapped from the Chibok school in Borno state, that means about half are unaccounted for — lending credence to reports that convoys of girls were ferried to Chad or Cameroon.
It was not clear if the U.S. was coordinating with those governments for flyover privileges.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said they have no reason to doubt the authenticity of the video.
“Our intelligence experts are combing over every detail of it for clues that might help in the ongoing efforts to secure the release of the girls. As you know, President Obama has directed his team to do everything it can to support the Nigerian government’s efforts to find and free these girls,” Carney told reporters yesterday.
“I can report to you that our interdisciplinary team with representatives from the State Department, the Department of Defense, the FBI and others is up and running now at our embassy in Nigeria, helping to support the Nigerian government by providing military and law enforcement assistance as well as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support. And we continue to work closely with our international partners, including the UK and France, and to press for additional multilateral action through the U.N. Security Council via sanctions on Boko Haram.”
In the same news conference, he admitted that, after first lady Michelle Obama showed her support for the #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign, a hashtag is just a hashtag.
When asked if it would convince Boko Haram to release the girls, Carney responded, “No, I wouldn’t say that.”
“I think that highlighting the situation there and the tragedy that the abduction of those girls represents helps focus attention on the matter and helps I think focus the attention of those who would want to assist in the finding and recovery of those girls,” he said.