The U.S. is now using unmanned drones in the search for hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist group Boko Haram, the White House said Wednesday.
The deployment of drones comes in addition to manned surveillance flights and satellite imagery being offered to the Nigerian government in the search for the girls. The U.S. has also sent an interdisciplinary crisis team with officials from the Pentagon, State Department and FBI to consult with Nigerian authorities.
White House press secretary Jay Carney, though, said the drones being used in the search were not armed, and stressed that American military resources and personnel were in Nigeria in an advisory capacity.
“At this point," he said, the administration was "not actively considering the deployment of U.S. forces,” despite calls from some Republicans to use special forces to rescue the missing girls.
“If they knew where they were, I certainly would send in U.S. troops to rescue them, in a New York minute I would, without permission of the host country,” Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainKelly takes under-the-radar approach in Arizona Senate race Voting rights, Trump's Big Lie, and Republicans' problem with minorities Sinema, Manchin curb Biden's agenda MORE (R-Ariz.) told The Daily Beast on Tuesday.
“I wouldn’t be waiting for some kind of permission from some guy named Goodluck Jonathan," he added, referring to Nigeria’s president.
Asked about McCain's comments, Carney cautioned observers to "not get ahead of ourselves."
"We are actively advising — including through military personnel — the Nigerian government as it seeks to find, to locate and to rescue these girls. Finding them is the first step," Carney said. "Our military personnel at the embassy and any additional military personnel we may deploy will be Nigeria in an advisory capacity."
U.S. military intervention may also be complicated by existing law. The Leahy Amendment bars direct aid to any foreign military guilty of human rights abuses — a charge the State Department has made of the Nigerian military in the past.
More than 200 young girls were taken from a Christian school in the country a month ago. In a 17-minute video released to AFP and The Associated Press earlier this week, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau offered to exchange the schoolgirls in exchange for the release of imprisoned members from his terrorist network.
The U.S. has encouraged the Nigerian government not to offer a ransom in exchange for the girls' release.
Carney also defended the Nigerian government's role leading the investigation as "entirely appropriate."
Critics have charged that the U.S. should more assertively seize control of the rescue effort after early mismanagement by the Nigerian government.
"Nigeria is a sovereign nation. The girls were abducted in Nigeria. They are Nigerian and it's entirely appropriate that Nigeria would lead the effort to find them," Carney said.
The White House spokesman stressed that the recovery effort still faced long odds.
"I would note that even the narrowly-drawn area where there is the greatest suspicion that the girls might be is an area that is something along the size of the state of West Virginia," Carney said. "So this is a pretty vast expanse of territory."