President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the U.S. will do everything it can to help Nigeria find nearly 300 teenage girls who have been missing since they were abducted from school three weeks ago by an Islamist extremist group that has threatened to sell them.
Finding the girls is the immediate priority, Obama said, and dealing with the Boko Haram group is a close second.
“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 Al Roker of NBC, “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 the Nigerian government has accepted technical assistance from U.S. military and law enforcement officials.
“We’re going to do everything we can to provide assistance to them,” the president said.
Obama said the April 15 abduction, which has ignited international outrage and mounting demands for Nigeria to do more to find and free the girls before they are harmed, is a “terrible situation.”
“Boko Haram, this terrorist organization that’s been operating in Nigeria, has been killing people and innocent civilians for a very long time,” Obama said, adding that the group long has been identified as one of the worst local or regional terrorist organizations in the world. “I can only imagine what the parents are going through,” added Obama, a father of two daughters ages 15 and 12.
The technical experts, including a team to be put together by the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, will include U.S. military and law enforcement personnel skilled in intelligence, investigations, hostage negotiating, information sharing and victim assistance, as well as officials with expertise in other areas, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
The U.S. was not considering sending armed forces, Carney noted.
Nigeria’s police have said more than 300 girls were abducted. Of that number, 276 remain in captivity and 53 escaped.
Nigeria’s Islamic extremist leader, Abubakar Shekau, has claimed responsibility for the abduction and warned that his group, Boko Haram, will attack more schools and abduct more girls. The group’s name means “Western education is sinful.”
The State Department on Tuesday warned U.S. citizens against traveling to Nigeria.