Nigeria Delaying Search For Missing Schoolgirls
The rest of the world is paying attention, but Nigerian officials seem to be dragging their feet in the search for those missing Nigerian schoolgirls and, more importantly, that the Nigerian military may not be at all up to the task at hand even if the girls are located:
ABUJA, Nigeria — Intelligence agents from all over the globe have poured into this city, Nigeria’s capital, to help find the nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram more than a month ago — but there has been little or no progress in bringing the young women home.
The problem, many involved in the rescue effort say, is the failings of the Nigerian military.
There is a view among diplomats here and with their governments at home that the military is so poorly trained and armed, and so riddled with corruption, that not only is it incapable of finding the girls, it is also losing the broader fight against Boko Haram. The group has effective control of much of the northeast of the country, as troops withdraw from vulnerable targets to avoid a fight and stay out of the group’s way, even as the militants slaughter civilians.
Boko Haram’s fighters have continued to strike with impunity this week, killing dozens of people in three villages in its regional stronghold, but also hitting far outside its base in the central region. Car bombs have killed well over 100, according to local press reports.
For the moment, assistance from France, the United States, Israel and Britain is focused on answering questions that ultimately might guide a rescue attempt. Where exactly are the girls? Have they been split up into groups? How heavily are they guarded?
Desperate for clues, the United States has dispatched drones to scan the 37,000 square miles of Sambisa Forest, a scrubby semidesert tangle of low trees and bushes in the corner of northeastern Nigeria where the girls are believed to be held.
“You have a lot of guys in town right now,” said the diplomat, referring to foreign intelligence and security personnel. But, he added, “A lot of this is assessment, and this is a pretty steep learning curve.” And one senior diplomat offered a sober picture of the prospect, for now: “Realistically I don’t think we’ve seen anything to indicate that we are on the verge of a huge breakthrough.”
That the hopes of many across the globe rests on such a weak reed as the Nigerian military has left diplomats here in something of a quandary about the way forward. The Nigerian armed forces must be helped, they say, but are those forces so enfeebled that any assistance can only be of limited value? “Now it’s a situation where the emperor has no clothes, and everybody is scratching their heads,” another diplomat here said.
Instead, the government may have its best shot with a negotiated settlement with the Islamists, possibly including a prisoner release, said a military officer in the region. Nigerian officials have hinted of a deal as well, though President Goodluck Jonathan has publicly ruled out a deal.
Some other diplomats here were more pessimistic, saying it was unlikely that all of the victims would be saved. Already, in the region and in the capital of Borno State, Maiduguri, 80 miles from Chibok, there are some credible accounts suggesting that some of the girls may already have been killed. “I think it’s going to be a slow burn,” one diplomat said.
Adding to the diplomats’ worry is a sense that officials in Mr. Jonathan’s administration are dangerously out of touch with the realities of a vicious insurgency that for years had been minimized in the distant capital, until the abductions made that impossible.
Ever since the kidnappings some six weeks ago now, there have been regular protests against the government for what family members believed to be a lack of concrete action aimed toward locating and rescuing these missing girls. At least initially, it seemed as though these protests had spurred the government to action as well as helping to generate an international response that has resulted in intelligence assistance from the United States, France, and other nations. If it becomes apparent that the government in Lagos is not acting quickly in this matter, one would only imagine that the protests would increase, which is likely to just lead to the very social instability that Boko Haram and other groups feed upon,
As for the girls themselves, the continued passage of time does not bode well for them I fear. The above photograph, for example, is a video still taken from a video released some weeks ago by Boko Haram purporting to show the girls, claiming that many of them had converted to Islam, and saying that they would not be released unless Boko Haram militants being held by the Nigerian Government were also released. As noted above, that kind of deal may be the only way to recover these girls, because it’s becoming quickly apparent that finding and rescuing them from a location or locations deep in the forests of Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon is going to be next to impossible.