U.S. Special Forces troops were headed to Nigeria but not to join in the hunt for the kidnapped schoolgirls who were offered as bargaining chips Monday by their Boko Haram captors.
"They will have no role whatsoever in the search for the missing girls," Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said of the Special Forces and other troops from U.S. Army Africa (USARAF) that will deploy to Nigeria in two weeks to advise a Nigerian Ranger battalion.
On Sunday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ruled out the use of Special Forces in the hunt for the missing girls, but USARAF made clear that one of the goals of the 12-member advisory team was to train the Nigerians to combat the Boko Haram terror group.
"We want these (Nigerian) soldiers to take the fight to Boko Haram in the restricted terrain and really eliminate the threat within their borders so they can get back to peacekeeping operations," Lt. Vinnie Garbarino, a USARAF engagements officer, said in an Army release.
At the Pentagon, Warren said 16 troops from the Africa Command were now at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, and were working from the Embassy with FBI and intelligence teams on advising the Nigerian security forces in tracking the girls who were abducted from their school in northeastern Nigeria on April 14.
Other U.S. troops currently in Nigeria included 50-60 assigned as staff officers to the Embassy and about 20 Marines who were finishing a brief mission advising the Nigerians on amphibious operations, Warren said.
In northeastern Nigeria's Borno state, villagers have protested the government's inaction in mounting an effective effort to find and resuce the more than 200 girls aged 16-18.
Boko Haram put out a video shown on YouTube of about 100 of the girls in black and grey shawls seated close together on the ground and apparently chanting. The Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, also appeared wearing military fatigues and brandishing an AK-47 rile. Shekau offered a swap of the girls for Boko Haram militants captured by the Nigerian forces.
"We will not release them while you detain our brothers," said Shekau.
Nigerian officials said that several thousand troops have been deployed in the search for the girls. Britain, France, Israel and China have also offered help or sent advisors.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has accepted an offer from French President Francois Hollande to attend a security summit in Paris this coming weekend on challenges to the region posed by Boko Haram.
Leaders from Chad, Benin, Cameroon and Niger were also expected to attend along with representatives from the European Union, Britain and the U.S.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com