CAPITOL HILL —
The Obama administration says it is taking action to help rescue more than 250 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted in mid-April, but that it is encountering challenges and obstacles in the effort. U.S. officials testified on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers uniformly condemned Boko Haram Islamist militants.
From widespread protests to a borderless social media campaign, the schoolgirls’ plight continues to grip the world’s attention. U.S. Senator Chris Coons heads the Africa panel of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“Boko Haram is trying to send a message, and the world, starting with the Nigerian government, must respond by saying their crimes will not be tolerated, and perpetrators held accountable,” he said.
Appearing before the panel, the Pentagon’s point person for Africa, Alice Friend, said 16 U.S. military specialists have been dispatched to advise Nigerian security forces. She said the threat posed by Boko Haram is growing, and has exposed other problems in Nigeria.
“Nigeria can be an extremely challenging partner to work with. In the face of this sophisticated threat, Nigeria’s security forces have been slow to adapt with new strategies, new doctrines and new tactics. Even more troubling, Nigeria’s record of atrocities perpetrated by some of its security forces during operations against Boko Haram has been widely documented,” said Friend.
And insecurity in Nigeria grows against a backdrop of hunger and need, according to Earl Gast of the U.S. Agency for International Development
“It is projected that, by 2015, Nigeria will be home to the largest number of persons worldwide living in poverty,” said Gast.
The international community has rallied to provide assistance, but there is much Nigeria must do on its own, according to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Robert Jackson.
“The [Nigerian] state must demonstrate to its citizens that it can protect them and offer them opportunity. When soldiers destroy towns, kill civilians, and detain innocent people with impunity, mistrust takes root,” he said.
The kidnapping crisis has sharpened U.S. lawmakers’ focus on the safety and well-being of women worldwide. Senator Jeanne Shaheen struck a resolute tone.
“We can either allow women to continue to be victims of violence and ignorance and repression, or we can act on behalf of wives, our daughters, our granddaughters,” said the senator.
A bill before Congress would make the safety of women a U.S. government priority in its dealings across the globe.