How U.S. Hopes To Jump-Start Stalled Campaign To Save Nigerian Girls

Jul 17, 2014
Originally published on July 17, 2014 6:40 pm

More than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by the extremist group Boko Haram in April are still missing. To find out what the U.S. is doing to help, Audie Cornish speaks with Linda Thomas-Greenfield, assistant secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs at the State Department.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish. There's been little to no progress in rescuing the more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls captured by Islamic militants in April. And this week, the group behind the kidnappings, Boko Haram, released a video mocking the worldwide Bring Back Our Girls campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Bring back our girls. Oh, bring back our army. Bring backs our army.

CORNISH: Bring back our army - a call for the Nigerian government to release Boko Haram prisoners in exchange for the girls. The country's president, Goodluck Jonathan, has been opposed to this idea but recent reports suggest U.S. officials are in Nigeria to help with some sort of negotiation. We're going to be joined now by Linda Thomas Greenfield. We reached her at her office at the State Department. She's the assistant secretary for the Bureau of African affairs. Linda Thomas Greenfield, welcome to the program.

LINDA THOMAS GREENFIELD: Thank you very much. I'm very happy to be here.

CORNISH: Now, earlier this week you were quoted in a web-chat with journalists saying that we, the U.S., have individuals there from the civilian side who can provide assistance on negotiations. So are U.S. officials actually working side-by-side with the Nigerian government on this?

GREENFIELD: Well, we're working with the Nigerians as well as the neighboring countries to help them build a lasting approach to combating Boko Haram. Our team there is multifaceted. It includes civilians, but there are also military members of the team. They are working to help build stronger border protections for the Nigerians as well as the neighboring country. They're working to help them better share intelligence so that they can deal with what has been a threat to the entire region. And for that reason, we have been pushing for all of our ambassadors to get in place because they play an important role in this area. And our ambassador in Cameroon as well as Niger are not in place.

CORNISH: So help us understand what this phrase means - provide assistance on negotiations.

GREENFIELD: Well, we are assisting them with techniques for negotiation if they should need those techniques. We're assisting them in what programs that they can provide to girls who might escape or who are being returned to their families so that they can better deal with the trauma that these girls are experiencing.

CORNISH: So just to be completely clear, at this point is there a negotiation going on between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram?

GREENFIELD: I can't answer that question, to be very frank with you. I assume that there are negotiations going on. This is what we're hearing. But I don't know that the Nigerian government is in direct negotiation with Boko Haram. There are a lot of individual efforts out there to assist the effort in finding the girls. Whether this is being led by the Nigerian government or not is not clear to us.

CORNISH: As you mentioned, the U.S. sent military experts to Nigeria sometime ago to help with the search and rescue effort. What's the status of that?

GREENFIELD: We are still providing information to the Nigerians that we've been able to gather. We still have a team on the ground working with them to help them better process information concerning where the girls or where Boko Haram might be operating.

CORNISH: There have been some critics, though, especially in Congress, who look at what the U.S. has done so far and say it's basically ineffective.

GREENFIELD: We are all doing our best to try to help the Nigerians bring the girls home. I would disagree that it's ineffective, yet, we know that it's a challenging job to fight terrorism and it's a job that requires relentless effort and we're there in the long - to stay on this effort with the Nigerians in the long run.

CORNISH: Linda Thomas Greenfield, looking forward, what are the biggest challenges either with this search and rescue effort or with dealing with Nigeria and Boko Haram?

GREENFIELD: I think the longer that the Chibok girls are not found, the harder it's going to be. That's a huge challenge. We want to continue to work with their families. We know the suffering that their families are experiencing, but we want to continue to focus attention on trying to find these girls as well as others who were kidnapped by Boko Haram. The 200 plus girls from Chibok are just part of a large number of individuals who have been terrorized by the group. So we want, ultimately, to stop their efforts to terrorize the people in Nigeria. Nigeria has an election coming in 2015. We want people to be able to get out and vote without fear that they will be attacked so that they can express their will at the voting booth.

CORNISH: Linda Thomas Greenfield is assistant secretary for the Bureau of African affairs at the State Department. Thank you for speaking with us.

GREENFIELD: Thank you very much. I'm very happy to have had the opportunity. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.