The U.S. military said almost a dozen staff officers were in Nigeria and would form the core part of the U.S. team to aid in finding nearly 300 schoolgirls who were abducted last month in northern Nigeria.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said the team is “sharply focused” on crisis and “moving as quickly as possible.” About 10 more members from AFRICOM will join the team within days.
The team will be based at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, and will help with communications, logistics and intelligence. Discussions about how to share information with the Nigerian government is ongoing.
Parents of the kidnapped girls said troops had arrived on Thursday in Chibok on a mission to find the girls.
"There are about three military helicopters hovering around our town and many soldiers have just arrived," said Maina Chibok, whose 16-year-old daughter is among the missing. "They are moving and advancing toward the bush. We hope they succeed in rescuing our daughters."
First ladies show support
U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama showed her support for the kidnapped girls on social media, posting a picture of herself on Facebook and Twitter, along with a message saying her thoughts and prayers were with the girls and their families.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also lent her voice to the international outcry on Wednesday, expressing her outrage and calling for action.
"It's criminal. It's an act of terrorism and it really merits the fullest response possible. First and foremost from the government of Nigeria,” Clinton said.
Earlier Thursday, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan pledged to find more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by Islamist rebels, as the hostage crisis overshadowed his opening address to a major conference designed to showcase investment opportunities in Africa's biggest economy.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Africa (WEFA) being hosted in the capital Abuja, Jonathan thanked foreign nations including the U.S., Britain, France, Canada and China for their support in trying to rescue the girls, who were kidnapped from a secondary school on April 14 by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram.
In remarks during the WEFA summit, Jonathan thanked delegates for coming despite the danger posed by the militants, then quickly moved on to a speech about creating jobs in African economies.
“As a nation we are facing attack from terrorism,'' Jonathan told delegates. "I believe that the kidnap of these girls will be the beginning of the end of terrorism in Nigeria.”
Despite such pledges, Jonathan admitted on national television this week that he had no idea where the girls were.
The recent kidnappings and numerous other attacks by Boko Haram have overshadowed Nigeria's hosting of the forum, an annual gathering of the rich and powerful that replicates the one in Davos, Switzerland.
In addition to the U.S., Britain has promised to provide satellite imagery, France said it will send security agents and Canada offered surveillance equipment and personnel to run it. China became the latest nation to offer help on Thursday.
In the latest big Islamist attack in Nigeria, 125 people were killed on Monday when gunmen rampaged through a town in the northeast near the Cameroon border.
A senator from Borno state, Ahmed Zannah, put the number killed at 300, although local politicians have sometimes been accused of exaggerating casualty figures for political reasons.
Either way, the scale and ferocity of the massacre in Gamburu again underscored how far Nigerian security forces are from protecting civilians in an increasingly violent region.
On Tuesday, residents of another village in the remote northeastern area where the schoolgirls were kidnapped said another eight girls were seized by suspected members of Boko Haram.
Nigerian Women March for Rescue of Chibok Girls
Muslim scholars speak out
Top religious scholars working under the world's largest bloc of Islamic countries also said Thursday they strongly condemn the kidnappings and called for the girls' immediate release.
Boko Haram's leader has used Islamic teachings as justification for threatening to sell the girls into slavery.
The Islamic Fiqh Academy, which is based in Saudi Arabia and dedicated to the advanced study of Islam, said that this "crime and other crimes committed by the likes of these extremist organizations contradicts all humanitarian principles and moral values and violates the provisions of the Quran and Sunnah," or teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.
The academy is part of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which is comprised of some 57 Muslim majority member-nations.
Also on Thursday, the OIC's Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission said Boko Haram is misguided to claim that the abduction of the girls and the threat to sell them off as slaves is in conformity with the injunctions of Islam. The rights body described the abduction of the schoolgirls as a "barbaric act."
Nigerian police on Wednesday offered a $300,000 reward for “credible” information leading to the location and rescue of the students.
Some information for this report provided by Reuters. AP.