U.S. President Barack Obama has deployed 80 U.S. military personnel to Chad to help find more than 250 schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamist militants last month in neighboring Nigeria.
Pentagon officials said the Air Force team will fly unmanned and unarmed aircraft over northern Nigeria and that Chad’s proximity to the search area will cut down on travel time, allowing for around-the-clock surveillance.
GlobalSecurity.org's Tim Brown told VOA via Skype launching drones from Chad also gives the U.S. more flexibility.
“They’re probably going to be used for a wider area of search, surveillance and then support if there happens to be a hostage rescue attempt or any kind of on the ground deployment of troops,” he said.
The move, announced in a letter from U.S. President Barack Obama to lawmakers, is part of Washington’s ongoing effort “to locate and support the safe return” of the girls, kidnapped last month by Boko Haram, the militant Islamic sect that has been terrorizing Nigeria.
But it’s an effort that’s been complicated by concerns about the Nigerian government, and weaknesses Brown said have been further exposed by Boko Haram’s actions.
“They’re [Boko Haram] showing the fact that these guys [the Nigerian government] are not able to walk and chew gum at the same time and they’re corrupt, and they are,” he said.
The new drone flights from Chad will be in addition to ongoing U.S. surveillance efforts.
“We’re flying unmanned reconnaissance flights over the areas in which we think it’s possible for the girls to be. We’ve not seen anything that indicates their location at this point,” said Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby earlier this week.
So far, the flights have produced little. “People have said it’s a needle in a haystack. It’s a needle in a jungle,” Kirby said.
U.S. military officials remain convinced Boko Haram has split the girls up into smaller groups and may be moving them around, making the search even more difficult. But they said the U.S. will do all it can to find the girls short of sending in combat troops, or as they put it, putting boots on the ground.