By Martin Matishak - 05/15/14 12:14 PM EDT
Menendez questions if Nigeria’s military can free kidnapped girls
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wants the Pentagon to review the ability of Nigeria’s military to rescue nearly 300 schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamist group Boko Haram, raising doubts that Abuja could act alone on U.S. intelligence.
Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) called initial efforts by Nigeria’s government to free the girls “indefensible” and “tragically slow,” during a hearing by the subcommittee on African Affairs.
He said U.S. efforts to aid the search “would be worthless” if the Nigerians were incapable of carrying out a rescue.
The United States has a team of nearly 30 law enforcement and intelligence advisers in the American Embassy in Abuja lending a hand to the effort. The U.S. has also sent unmanned drones to fly over the country and offered satellite imagery to the central government to locate the girls.
"[If] we don’t know if they have the capacity to act on it, what good will that be?” Menendez asked.
“It is impossible to fathom we might have actionable intelligence and that we would not have the wherewithal to conduct a rescue,” he added.
Menendez’s call comes as lawmakers have begun to raise pressure on the White House to take a more active role in the search for the missing girls. Critics say the Nigerian government botched their efforts to locate and free the girls when they were first taken last month.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Wednesday said the U.S. should consider sending in troops, including special forces, to locate and free the girls, even without the consent of the Nigerian government.
But the White House has rebuffed those calls, insisting that Nigeria is taking the lead in the search and that the U.S. team is only serving in an advisory role.
At Thursday's hearing, Alice Friend, the Defense Department’s principal director for African Affairs, declined to speculate on how capable local forces would be since the location of the girls remains unknown.
“Go back to the department and bring to the committee a better answer than that,” Menendez replied.
Friend offered to engage more with Nigerian leaders about their abilities, but Menendez insisted the U.S. conduct its own review.
“I want our own assessment,” he said. “We’re not going to wait and then find out we don’t have the capacity to do it.”