Nigeria’s hunt for more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls is not all that it seems. In public, an international operation is gathering pace while, behind the scenes, officials say it is unlikely to deliver the success that global opinion demands.
The United States and Britain are helping Nigerian forces in the effort to liberate the girls taken from their school in Borno state a month ago by Boko Haram Islamist terrorists.
Washington has sent surveillance aircraft as well as assigning medical, intelligence, counter-terrorism and communications advisers to the mission.
But officials have little idea where the girls are, and acknowledge that if they are found, any rescue attempt would be fraught with problems. On top of that, morale is shaky among some of the Nigerian troops involved in the hunt who have experience of Boko Haram as a formidable foe.
Foreign experts are also pessimistic that the girls can be extricated from the rebels’ clutches and returned to their homes in Nigeria’s remote northeast where Boko Haram operates.
“I think a rescue is currently unlikely and unfeasible,” said Jacob Zenn, a Boko Haram expert at U.S. counter-terrorism institution CTC Sentinel.
Until Monday, nothing had been seen of the girls since they were snatched from the village of Chibok near Nigeria’s borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
Then Boko Haram released a video showing more than 100 girls together in a rural location. In it, rebel leader Abubakar Shekau offered to exchange them for captured terrorists.