Nigerian police offered a 50 million naira ($337,000 Cdn) reward today to anyone who can give credible information leading to the rescue of more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by Islamist rebels.
Last month's mass kidnapping by militant group Boko Haram in the remote northeastern village of Chibok triggered an international outcry and protests in Nigeria, piling pressure on the government to get the girls back.
- Nigeria offered Canadian gear to help search for kidnapped girls
- What is Boko Haram, the group behind the kidnappings?
- Timeline: Abduction of Nigerian schoolgirls
- Nahlah Ayed: Will world act to help Nigeria's missing schoolgirls?
As world concern mounts over the fate of nearly 300 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls, U.S. President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the U.S. will do everything it can to help Nigeria find them.
The teenage girls were kidnapped from school three weeks ago by Boko Haram, an Islamist extremist group that has threatened to sell them.
Obama said the immediate priority is finding the girls, but that Boko Haram must also be dealt with.
"In the short term our goal is obviously is to help the international community, and the Nigerian government, as a team to do everything we can to recover these young ladies," Obama said in an interview with NBC's Today, in some of his first public comments on what he said was a "terrible situation" in the West African nation.
"But we're also going to have to deal with the broader problem of organizations like this that … can cause such havoc in people's day-to-day lives," Obama said of Boko Haram.
Kidnapping an act of terrorism: Clinton
Hillary Rodham Clinton says the kidnapping of nearly 300 girls by an Islamic extremist group in Nigeria is "abominable" and the Nigerian government has been "somewhat derelict" in protecting its children.
Clinton said at an event on philanthropy in New York that the Nigerian government needs to do everything it can bring the captive girls home safely. She called the kidnapping by Boko Haram an "act of terrorism."
The Pentagon is sending a small number of troops to Nigeria to help find the girls. Clinton says the Nigerian government should accept the help.
The brazen April 15 abduction has sparked international outrage and mounting demands, including by some in Washington, for Nigeria to spare no effort to find and free the girls before they can be sold into slavery or otherwise harmed.
Nigeria's police have said more than 300 girls were abducted from their secondary school in the country's remote northeast. Of that number, 276 remain in captivity and 53 managed to escape.
Obama said he was glad the Nigerian government was accepting help from U.S. military and law enforcement advisers.
"Obviously, what's happening is awful, and, as a father of two girls, I can't imagine what their parents are going through," he told CBS News in an interview. Obama said the U.S. has long sought to work with Nigeria to contain Boko Haram.
"You've got one of the worst regional or local terrorist organizations in Boko Haram in Nigeria. They've been killing people ruthlessly for many years now and we've already been seeking greater co-operation with the Nigerians," Obama said in an interview with ABC News.
He said the kidnapping and subsequent outrage over Nigeria's inability to rescue the girls "may be the event that helps to mobilize the entire international community to finally do something against this horrendous organization that's perpetrated such a terrible crime."
Pentagon: No military ops planned yet for Nigeria
A handful of U.S. troops will arrive in Nigeria in the next few days to help find nearly 300 girls kidnapped by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, but the U.S. has no plans to launch any military operations, the Pentagon said Wednesday.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said fewer than 10 troops are being sent as part of the larger U.S. assistance team to include State Department and Justice Department personnel. The military members will help with communications, logistics and intelligence-planning.
Warren said the U.S. was talking with Nigeria about information and intelligence-sharing, but nothing has been decided.
There are already about 70 military personnel in Nigeria, including 50 regularly assigned to the embassy, and 20 Marines have been there for training.
At the State Department, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the department was moving swiftly to put a team in place at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja that can provide military, law enforcement and information-sharing assistance in support of Nigeria's efforts to find and free the girls. She said the U.S. ambassador to Nigeria met Wednesday morning with Nigeria's national security adviser.
"Our legal attaché has been in touch with Nigerian police," she said. "The FBI stands ready to send additional personnel, to provide technical and investigatory assistance, including expertise on hostage negotiations and USAID is working with partners on what we can do to be ready to provide victims' assistance."
Nigeria ready to do more: Kerry
Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. had been in touch with Nigeria "from day one" of the crisis. But repeated offers of U.S. assistance were ignored until Kerry got on the phone Tuesday with Jonathan amid growing international concern and outrage over the fate of the girls in the weeks since their abduction.
Kerry said Nigeria apparently wanted to pursue its own strategy, but now realizes more needs to be done.
"I think now the complications that have arisen have convinced everybody that there needs to be a greater effort," Kerry said at a State Department news conference. "And it will begin immediately. I mean, literally, immediately."
A statement from Jonathan's office said the U.S. offer "includes the deployment of U.S. security personnel and assets to work with their Nigerian counterparts in the search and rescue operation." The statement added that Nigeria's security agencies are working at "full capacity" to find the girls and welcomes the addition of American "counter-insurgency know-how and expertise."
Nigeria's Islamic extremist leader, Abubakar Shekau, has claimed responsibility for the abduction and has threatened to sell the girls. Shekau also warned that Boko Haram will attack more schools and abduct more girls. Boko Haram means "Western education is sinful."
The State Department on Tuesday warned U.S. citizens against travelling to Nigeria.