August 20, 2014
Nigeria: Search for the kidnapped girls, 'unlikely to have happy ending'
Nigeria's hunt for more than 200 abducted 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 militants.
The pressure for results is huge, with the likes of Michelle Obama and film star Angelina Jolie supporting a social media campaign operating under the Twitter tag #BringBackOurGirls.
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 already have experience of Boko Haram as a formidable foe.
"We commend the effort by the #BringBackOurGirls protesters but it doesn't fit with the reality of the security situation we are facing," said a senior Nigerian military source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
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 US 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 militants.
The video raised hopes that their location could be found using ground forces, state-of-the-art intelligence and surveillance planes.
Then an operation could be staged, perhaps with forces swooping from the sky like a British raid in Sierra Leone in 2000 to free soldiers held by militiamen, or Israeli commandoes' rescue of passengers from a jet hijacked to Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976.
However, such a scenario is unlikely this time. One source with knowledge of the search said the footage was probably taken at least 10 days ago, if Boko Harma's past videos are any guide. By now, the girls could be somewhere else as a group, or dispersed to many places.