A former State Department official cautions that a quick U.S. decision to get directly involved in the search for hundreds of girls kidnapped by Islamic radicals could be a big mistake, and he also believes the Nigerian government will probably agree to a prisoner swap to free Boko Haram members in exchange for the missing students.
More than 300 schoolgirls were abducted from northeastern Nigeria last month.
Last week, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau announced his group was responsible for the abductions and that he intended to sell at least 276 girls into slavery. The announcement triggered worldwide outrage and discussion of what could be done to rescue the girls. The Nigerian government, which had previously rejected any international assistance, agreed to allow American advisers into the country.
Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said a U.S. intelligence team is “combing over every detail” of the latest video allegedly showing around 100 of the kidnapped girls. Carney said the U.S. has at least two-dozen experts “up and running at our embassy in Nigeria.”
While few officials are suggesting America deploy troops in the rescue effort, former State Department official and foreign policy analyst Fred Gedrich cautions that too much direct involvement of any kind may bring more consequences than the U.S. bargained for.
“I think we’ve got to be very careful and fully comprehend the situation,” Gedrich said. “What we’re dealing with is a complicated situation. Population-wise, Nigeria is the largest country in Africa, with 177 million people. There’s 250 ethnic groups. About 50 percent of the population [is] Muslim, and it happens to have a Christian leader now. With a Christian as president, I think that creates complications because Islam is marching throughout the country.”
The latest message from Boko Haram is a video of many girls in traditional Muslim dress and reciting prayers in traditional Muslim ways. The message also contains an offer to return the girls in exchange for Boko Haram figures being freed by the Nigerian government.
“The modus opeandi of the Boko Haram group and the group they’re they’re tied to (al-Qaida in the Magreb) is they kidnap for ransom and in this case it would be people. In the case of getting those poor kidnapped girls out of the clutches of that terror group, I think they would be willing to almost do anything,” he said.
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Fred Gedrich:
Gedrich is a fierce critic of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, saying she really doesn’t have any major accomplishments to boast about during her tenure. Still, he said Clinton should not be pilloried for refusing to label Boko Haram as a terrorist organization.
“If you look at the criteria that’s used to judge a foreign organization as a terror group by the State Department, it’s whether or not they’re a foreign organization. Certainly, Boko Haram qualifies in that regard. Does it engage in terrorist activity? Yes, it does,” he said.
“The third one is the one that probably held her up, and that’s whether or not the group is a threat to the U.S. citizens and the security interests of the United States. In that case, I think it gives her an out because all three criteria should be met,” said Gedrich, who also doesn’t fault current Secretary of State John Kerry for applying the terrorist label to Boko Haram in 2013.
“He went the other way. We do have an embassy there. It’s well-staffed and a case could be made that our diplomats are in danger. That could apply anywhere in Africa and many parts of the world for that matter,” he said.
Gedrich said much of the evaluation of alleged terrorist organizations happens through the State Department Bureau of Counterterrorism, although the secretary of state has the final say in adding or removing groups from the list.
Another debate arising from the crisis surrounding the Nigerian girls is the impact of so-called hash-tag activism. Millions of people have used the phrase #bringbackourgirls to put pressure on the terrorists to release the hostages and urge the U.S. and other governments to do more to get them freed.
Columnist George Will said this is nothing more than “an exercise in self-esteem” that has no real world impact. Gedrich said he is skeptical of the social media trend’s usefulness, but he noted that it can’t hurt.
“I believe anything to get people out of the clutches of kidnappers is a good thing, even if it’s something like that,” he said. “But we’ve got to be careful it’s not a wag-the-dog effort, something where celebrities and everyone else hops in to make themselves feel good and nothing really positive happens. What Nigeria is facing is a long-term problem that is not going to be resolved in the near term.”