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US determined to find Nigerian schoolgirls

 

The Twitter campaign and daily headlines have faded, but Pentagon officials are still feverishly trying to rescue nearly 300 Nigerian school girls from the bloody clutches of Boko Haram, the African jihadist group whose murderous campaign against its Christian countrymen continues unabated.

The cause that gripped the globe less than a month ago, when the horrific detail of the girls' abduction was followed by a vow from Boko Haram's leader to sell the young women, has only become more dire as time has passed. While the U.S. has not put boots on the ground to aid Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan's effort to rout the terror group, it is advising local forces and operating an array of drones above the skies of northeastern Nigeria.

"Boko Haram's kidnappings and other deplorable attacks on civilians have not been forgotten about by the Defense Department"

- Lt. Colonel Myles Caggins, Defense Department spokesman

"Boko Haram's kidnappings and other deplorable attacks on civilians have not been forgotten about by the Defense Department," Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Myles Caggins told FoxNews.com. "We continue to work day and night to find these girls."

Caggins said a variety of manned and unmanned aircraft are being used to try to pinpoint the girls, who are believed to be held in one of several encampments in a lawless, 20,000-square-mile forest in northeastern Nigeria. The girls were taken April 15 from a school in Chibok in northern Nigeria. Dozens escaped, but the group's leader threatened on video to sell most of the remaining 276 schoolgirls into slavery if the government does not release detained militants.

When asked if the U.S. had plans to send in troops on the ground, Caggins said the DOD is "not exploring options" beyond locating the girls and that, "We’re not going to go into another country without invitation.

"All the Nigerians have asked us to do currently is find the girls and share information about their whereabouts," he said.

Caggins' words were echoed by Ned Price, assistant press secretary for the National Security Council, who said the 80 U.S. military personnel are operating out of neighboring Chad to support the Nigeria-led search.

"The team in Chad is there in support of one of our intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets – an unarmed, unmanned aerial vehicle supporting the search for the girls," Price said. "Roughly half of the team consists of maintenance and support personnel. The other half provides security for that team."

Price also noted that the U.S. will "continue to evaluate what additional resources we might bring to bear in support in close consultation with the Nigerian government."

But even as the hunt proceeds, Boko Haram has continued its campaign of terrorizing the surrounding villages. The Department of Defense confirmed to FoxNews.com Tuesday that the Islamic militant gunmen had abducted 20 women from a nomadic settlement in northeast Nigeria close to Chibok, the very town where Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls and young women in April.

Leaders from Borno state buried 110 bodies from attacks on nine villages early last week, and at least 200 people have been killed in attacks over the last two weeks.

Alhaji Tar, a member of the vigilante groups set up to resist the attacks, told The Associated Press that suspected Boko Haram gunman arrived at noon Thursday in the Garkin Fulani settlement and forced 20 women to enter their vehicles at gunpoint. He said the men drove away to an unknown location in the remote stretch of Borno state. Also on Thursday, 45 people were killed by Boko Haram gunmen pretending to be preachers in a village near the group's spiritual home, according to a report by the AFP.

The latest kidnappings and killings follow a long list of crimes committed by a terrorist group that opposes Christianity and Western-style education and seeks to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria. Human rights groups say that thousands of people have been killed over the past five years by the insurgent group. An estimated 2,000 people have been killed so far this year, and close to 750,000 Nigerians have been displaced from their homes.

On May 20, two car bombs tore through a busy bus terminal and a market in the central city of Jos, killing at least 118 people and wounding dozens of others. While no one has claimed responsibility for the bombings, the Nigerian government suspects Boko Haram was behind the attacks. On May 1, a car bomb exploded in Abuja, Nigeria's capital and the location of the U.S. Embassy. At least 19 people were killed and 66 people wounded.

On April 14, a day before the nearly 300 school girls were kidnapped,a massive explosion was reported at a bus station in Abuja, killing at least 75 people and wounding 141.

Other massacres include a March 14, 2014, assault by Boko Haram on the main Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri. The fighting killed a reported 425 people, mostly detainees that included civilians, hospital workers told the Associated Press.

On Feb. 25, the terrorist group locked up 59 students at a boarding school in Yobe state and burned them alive in a dormitory. On Feb. 19, the group targeted the agricultural and commercial center Bama town, killing at least 115 people and destroying more than 1,500 homes.Days earlier, on Feb. 16, members of the group fired at villagers, while chanting "Allah is great," and killed more than 50 people in the Izghe village in Borno state.

On Jan. 26, the Islamic militants killed at least 85 people when they blew up the main market in Kawuri village, shooting people and setting homes on fire.

Rona Peligal, deputy director of the African division for Human Rights Watch, said the murderous attacks have escalated especially in recent months, adding, "It's not entirely surprising given what we know about Boko Haram."

Peligal told FoxNews.com that Human Rights Watch is actively investigating further abductions within the country that have gone unreported.

"We obviously are very concerned about the ongoing atrocities and hope the Nigerian government will be able to respond more effectively to the abuses," Peligal said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.