LAGOS (AA) – A senior Nigerian army official on Monday denied reports that the U.S. military had abandoned plans to help search for dozens of abducted Nigerian schoolgirls because local commanders were leaking the plans to the Boko Haram militant group.
“There was never a planned rescue operation to be carried out along with the U.S.,” a Nigerian Defense Ministry official told the Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity.
“The terms of the cooperation or assistance never included any kinetic operation,” he insisted.
In April of last year, Boko Haram militants abducted 276 girls from their school dormitories in northeastern Borno State’s town of Chibok, according to official accounts.
Boko Haram kingpin Abubakar Shekau later claimed responsibility for the abductions, offering to trade the kidnapped girls for detained militants held by the Nigerian authorities.
At least 57 of the girls subsequently managed to escape their captors. The fate of the remaining girls, however, remains unknown.
At the time, the incident made global headlines, and several countries – including the U.S. – had offered to help Nigeria find the schoolgirls.
Local media reports, however, have quoted unnamed U.S. generals as saying that Washington had now abandoned these efforts because top local military commanders were colluding with Boko Haram.
The Nigerian Defense Ministry official, who asked not to be named due to the issue’s sensitivity, denied the claim.
“All… actionable intelligence from committed partners has always been well utilized in counterterrorism operations,” he told AA.
At no time, he asserted, did the Americans visit the restive region.
“Despite the unfettered access granted them, they never visited the northeast even once,” he said.
He went on to accuse Washington of working behind the scenes to discredit and frustrate Nigerian rescue efforts.
“This claim characterizes the behind-the-scenes efforts of some foreign officials bent on capitalizing on the security situation here to find a means of discrediting the Nigerian military after failing to be of any meaningful assistance,” said the official.
“At best, this claim is just another alibi by some quarters involved in carrying out a destructive campaign against the reputation of the Nigerian military,” he suggested.
In a recent interview, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan promised to rescue the girls alive.
Relations between Nigeria and the U.S. appear to have hit at an all-time low amid repeated differences on a host of issues, including ongoing counterterrorism operations.
Since 2009, Nigeria has battled a fierce Boko Haram insurgency that has ravaged the country’s volatile northeast and left thousands dead.
The insurgency, said to have claimed over 13,000 lives to date, is considered Nigeria’s worst security crisis since its three-year civil war from 1967 to 1970.
A seemingly emboldened Boko Haram recently stepped up its militant activity, seizing several areas of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states, where it has declared a self-styled “Islamic caliphate.”
Last month, Nigeria postponed its general election from Feb. 14 to March 28, citing security concerns arising from the Boko Haram insurgency.
The Nigerian army has since announced that it had successfully dislodged militants from a number of Boko Haram-held towns.
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