Whereabouts of Nigerian girls still unconfirmed, says State Department

The United States has been unable to verify claims from a Nigerian official that the government there has located the nearly 300 girls kidnapped earlier this year by Islamic extremists, the State Department said Tuesday.

"We have consistently said that locating the girls is, of course, the first critical step and that we're actively working to support the Nigerian government's effort to do just that. We don't have independent information from the United States to support these reports you referenced," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday.

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Psaki also appeared to express disappointment that the Nigerians had revealed they believed to know about the whereabouts of the missing schoolgirls.

"As a matter of policy, and for the girls' safety and well-being, we certainly would not discuss publicly this sort of information," Psaki said.

The comments came after Nigerian defense chief Alex Barde said the military had located where terror organization Boko Haram was holding the girls.

But, Barde said, according to The New York Times, "we can't go and kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back." 

Barde refused to say where the Nigerian government believed the girls to be, but repeatedly warned that a military operation to recover the girls would put their lives at risk.

Psaki sidestepped questions about whether the State Department feared the Nigerian government was not capable of mounting a rescue operation.

"I wouldn't draw that conclusion," she said. "We continue to support their efforts on the ground. They're in the lead. Everybody is taking every step possible to find the girls, and that's what we're all working towards, the same goal."

The Nigerian government and President Goodluck Jonathan have come under criticism for their slow response to the kidnapping, with some U.S. lawmakers suggesting the Obama administration should intervene, even without approval from the government.

Last week, President Obama announced the U.S. was deploying 80 U.S. military personnel to Chad to help in the search for the girls. In a letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Obama said the service members would help with the American intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft flying over norther Nigeria.