Nigeria opens door for talks with kidnappers
A Nigerian government official says "all options are open" in efforts to rescue almost 300 abducted schoolgirls from their captors as US reconnaissance aircraft started flying over this West African country in a search effort.
Boko Haram, the militant group that kidnapped the girls last month from a school in Borno state, released a video yesterday purporting to show some of the girls.
According to a senior defense official in Washington, the US is using a manned MC-12 surveillance aircraft, which is based in Niger, to conduct missions in Nigeria.
In addition to the turboprop model which has seen heavy use in Afghanistan, US officials are also considering the use of drones. At this point the surveillance missions are not continuous.
General David Rodriguez, head of US Africa Command, was in Abuja on Tuesday, meeting with leaders at the US Embassy, the defense official said.
Boko Haram's leader, who appears separately from the girls, says in the new video: "I swear to almighty Allah, you will not see them again until you release our brothers that you have captured." He has previously threatened to sell the girls into slavery.
Hussein Monguno, an official with a civic group called the Borno Yobe People's Forum, said representatives of the families of the missing girls had been invited to the Borno governor's residence in the Nigerian capital of Abuja to view the latest Boko Haram video.
The government is likely to communicate the next course of action if some family representatives "verify" that their children appear in the video, he said by phone from Maiduguri, the Borno capital.
Nigeria's government initially suggested there would be no negotiations with Boko Haram, but it appears that stance may be relaxed.
Mike Omeri, the director of the government's information agency, said the government will "use whatever kind of action" it takes to free the girls. He also warned that a military operation, with foreign help, was possible.
"At the moment, because all options are open we are interacting with experts, military and intelligence experts from other parts of the world," he said late Monday. "So these are part of the options that are available to us and many more."
The mass kidnappings - and the government's allegedly slow response to find the missing girls - have sparked outrage at home and abroad.
Last week critics organized a mass protest in Abuja to press the government to do more to find the missing girls and to stop attacks by Boko Haram.
The official News Agency of Nigeria reported that President Goodluck Jonathan asked the National Assembly to extend for another six months the state of emergency in Borno and two other northeastern states. The emergency was imposed May 14, 2013, and extended in December.
Britain and the US are now actively helping Nigeria's government to rescue the missing girls. Britain, which has dispatched security experts to Nigeria, said it is looking to offer "longer-term counter-terrorism solutions to prevent such attacks in the future and defeat Boko Haram."
The US is sharing commercial satellite imagery with the Nigerian government and is flying manned intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft over Nigeria with the Nigerian government's permission, a senior US official told The Associated Press on Monday.
Boko Haram has killed more than 1500 people this year in a campaign of bombings, massacres and kidnappings.