Pentagon 'cautious' in sharing information with Nigeria

The Defense Department has to be “exceedingly cautious” about what information it divulges to Nigerian leaders in the search for nearly 300 abducted schoolgirls, a Pentagon official told lawmakers on Thursday.

The reason is the Nigerian’s government history of human rights violations and a 1997 law that bars the U.S. from providing training and other assistance to militaries, or units within them, that are accused of human rights violations.

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Alice Friend, the Defense Department’s principal director for African Affairs, told a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee that Nigeria’s record has been a “persistent and very troubling limitation on our assistance.” She added that the Pentagon has “struggled” in the past to find Nigerian units it can coordinate with.

Friend laid most of the blame on the “incapacity of the Nigerian military and government to provide leadership to change” the often brutal tactics carried out by security forces.

In addition, that lack of guidance has led the army division in the northern part of the country charged with engaging Boko Haram forces to show signs of “real fear” because it cannot match the group’s fighting power and might retreat, she said.

Boko Haram is an Islamic extremist group that kidnapped the schoolgirls last month and has threatened to sell them into slavery.

A U.S. team of roughly 30 experts from the Defense and State departments and the FBI are at the embassy in Abuja to assist in the search for the schoolgirls. The White House also directed drones to fly over the country and offered to share satellite imagery with the central government.

The Defense Department has begun working with Nigeria’s newly minted ranger battalion on counter-terrorism operations inside the country, Friend said.