The White House on Wednesday announced that it would be sending 80 U.S. military personnel to help take part in the international effort to find more than 200 missing Nigerian schoolgirls, a reversal from previously insisting that no military forces would be involved in the hunt.
In the brief letter to the leaders of the House and Senate, President Obama declared that under the War Powers Act’s provisions he deployed the forces without direct Congressional approval. “Approximately 80 U.S. Armed Forces personnel have deployed to Chad as part of the U.S. efforts to locate and support the safe return of over 200 schoolgirls who are reported to have been kidnapped in Nigeria,” the letter reads. “These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area.”
“The force will remain in Chad until its support in resolving the kidnapping situation is no longer required,” Obama’s letter continues. The United States previously sent a team of advisers including diplomats, crisis negotiators, and intelligence advisers under the leadership of the State Department to aid the Nigerian government in their search for the girls. Both manned and unmanned American aircraft have also been launched over Nigeria to search for the presence of the girls, who were kidnapped from their school in northern Nigeria over a month ago.
The newly deployed team isn’t there to actively take part in the search for the girls, however, at least not in the conventional sense. Several of those deployed, who were launched within the last forty-eight hours, are there to protect the operators of the unarmed drone that will be launched from Chad to perform reconnaissance. A senior administration official stressed to ThinkProgress that the team deployed are only armed with weapons for their own force protection and security and there with the consent of the Chadian government. The fact that the team deployed with weapons for their own defense, the official said, is what necessitated the letter to Congress.
It won’t be lonely for the eighty personnel now in Chad. They are the latest in a series of deployments to Africa under President Obama under the War Powers Act to take part in regional operations. In 2011, the White House announced that roughly 100 military personnel would be deployed to central Africa to join in the hunt for warlord Joseph Kony. They were joined by another 150 personnel earlier this year to step up the effort.
To date, the search for the missing girls has turned up empty, even as countries from around the world — from the United Kingdom to Japan to Israel — have offered their assistance. And internationally, the interest in the story has begun to fade, even as Boko Haram launches more and more deadly attacks throughout Nigeria. Though no credit has yet been claimed for the attack, twin blasts in the Nigerian city of Jos killed at least 118 people, far from the northern region where Boko Haram has historically operated.