CHIBOK-Revealing photographs of Boko Haram fighters have been taken by United States manned and unmanned aircraft as American military and intelligence specialists intensified the hunt for Nigeria’s missing schoolgirls.
However, US officials have expressed frustration with the country’s inability to act on these and other fresh intelligence about the Boko Haram extremists who took more than 200 school girls captive and threatened to sell them into slavery, The Los Angeles Times has reported.
“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 northeastern Nigeria,” the report quoted US officials as saying.
It said the Obama administration has shared the images with President Goodluck Jonathan’s government in Abuja. “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.
US Defence officials, according to the report, believe the insurgents split the girls into several groups after the April 14 abduction from school in Chibok village. The leader of the militants, Abubakar Shekau, said this week that he would release some of the girls in exchange for imprisoned members of his group.
Bolstered by international help, the Nigerian-led search has now expanded to include an ungoverned area of desert and that crosses the porous borders into neighbouring Chad, Niger and Cameroon, US officials say. The girls’ locations are still unknown, however, the report said.
Meanwhile, mounting US frustration with the case spilled into the open on Thursday at a US Senate hearing where US officials complained of lack of decisive actions on what had been harvested so far.
“It is impossible to fathom that we might have actionable intelligence and we would not have the wherewithal — whether by the Nigerians themselves or by other entities helping the Nigerians — to be able to conduct a rescue mission,” said Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“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.”
The United States, however, said it will continue to deepen its efforts, Defence Secretary, Chuck Hagel, said while traveling to Saudi Arabia.
“However, I have seen no intelligence come back that I am aware of that shows that we’ve located those girls,” he said.
For now, the United States is not sharing raw intelligence from its surveillance aircraft with Nigeria’s armed forces because the countries have still not established the intelligence-sharing protocols and safeguards needed for an intelligence-sharing agreement, Pentagon spokesman, Colonel Steve Warren, said.
That said, the intelligence gathered through the surveillance flights is being fed to an interdisciplinary team on the ground, and that team is analysing it and providing advice to the Nigerian government, he said.
Warren added that the manned and unmanned aircraft being used are unarmed.