Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Nigeria School Attack: Why US Hasn't Sent Special Forces to Rescue Girls

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Nigeria School Attack: Why US Hasn't Sent Special Forces to Rescue Girls

Article excerpt

The United States is sending eight military personnel to Nigeria to offer intelligence assistance following the kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls, but if Washington were serious about helping find them, why not offer up a contingent of US Special Operations Forces to help do the job?

That is the question posed by some lawmakers, who note that such rescue and extraction missions are, after all, a Special Ops specialty. And how tricky could it be, they add, to overpower a brutal, but military undisciplined, rebel group?

"I would like to see Special Forces deployed to help rescue these young girls," Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine told CNN, adding that she would think Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan "would welcome Special Forces coming in."

That has not been the case, say top US military officials. "We had made repeated offers of assistance, and it was only just this week when the Nigerians accepted the offer of this coordination cell," Rear Adm. John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, said Friday.

The US military personnel in that cell will include eight US troops being sent to Nigeria in addition to another 10 service members that were already working in the embassy.

These are US troops trained in intelligence collection and analysis, Rear Admiral Kirby said, and they also will work out of the embassy. "We're not talking about US military operations in Nigeria to go find these girls," Kirby said. "That's not the focus here."

But specially trained personnel, such as Special Operations Forces (SOF), could provide some much-needed expertise, some argue.

"Special Ops would give us a deeper understanding for what's going on," says retired Lt. Col. Rudy Atallah, former Africa Counterterrorism director at the Pentagon. Such forces, he adds, would also help to "figure out how to mitigate the threat."

At the same time, that prospect is "politically dicey" in Nigeria. "We've always looked to the Nigerians for assistance," which has included peacekeeping operations through the Africa Union, notes Mr. Atallah, now a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Africa Center. "Now all of a sudden they have an insurgency that has been growing and taking root in the north, and it's an embarrassment for them."

There is also a concern that the Nigerian military does not prioritize human rights when they are pursuing targets, and that innocent civilians suffer as a result. "Nigeria has been extremely heavy-handed," Atallah adds. "And that has led to Boko Haram getting some sympathetic support" from civilians who fear the government almost as much as the rebel group.

The Nigerian government "has been promising for months that it would adopt a softer approach," says Bronwyn Bruton, deputy director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council. …

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