By Mario Trujillo - 05/27/14 08:16 AM EDT
Nigeria's defense chief, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, on Monday told demonstrators the country had located the more than 200 girls captured by extremists last month but feared a rescue attempt could lead to their deaths.
The Defense Department, however, told The Associated Press it could not confirm Badeh's statement.
Badeh refused to elaborate about details of girls’ location, according to Agence France-Presse.
The Nigerian government and its military have been criticized for its delayed response in allowing international support to find the girls kidnapped by the group Boko Haram, an Islamic terrorist organization.
"Nobody should come and say the Nigerian military does not know what it's doing. We know what we are doing. We can't go and kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back," Badeh said.
"We want our girls back. I can tell you we can do it. Our military can do it. But where they are held, can we go with force?" he asked.
The defense chief spoke in front of a crowd of supporters, many of whom were bused into the city, according to the AP, which indicated the event was organized.
The United States and other international partners have sent military and law enforcement personnel into the country and surrounding regions to help in the rescue effort after an international outcry.
Last week, President Obama revealed that around 80 military personnel deployed to neighboring Chad to help with reconnaissance aircraft missions in the northern region of Nigeria, where the girls were abducted. The armed forces will also aid in intelligence and surveillance operations.
The United States already had law enforcement and intelligence experts in Nigeria to help with the rescue. A few Republicans have pressed the administration to send special forces units to help in the rescue effort, but the White House has rejected those calls, saying that U.S. forces are acting only in a supporting role.