The United States has deployed 80 troops to Chad to augment efforts to find Nigerian schoolgirls who were taken hostage by a militant Islamist group, the White House announced Wednesday, in a significant escalation of Washington’s contribution to a crisis that has drawn global consternation.
“These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area,” the White House said in a statement formally notifying Congress about the deployment.
The unit will remain in Chad “until its support resolving the kidnapping is no longer required,” the statement said.
The Pentagon recently dispatched a team of eight experts to the Nigerian capital to help search for the more than 200 schoolgirls captured by Boko Haram, a group that holds sway over remote areas in northern Nigeria. They are working with roughly two dozen other U.S. law enforcement and intelligence personnel advising the Nigerian government on the recovery effort.
On Tuesday, a Defense Department spokesman, Rear. Adm. John Kirby, called the search for the missing girls tantamount to finding “a needle in a jungle.”
“We’re talking about an area roughly the size of West Virginia, and it’s dense forest jungle,” he told reporters.
The abduction of the girls in mid-April from a boarding school in the town of Chibok went largely unnoticed outside of Africa for weeks. But their plight began making headlines in the United States recently as calls for their return gained significant traction on social media.
Several U.S. female lawmakers and first lady Michelle Obama have joined the cause, posting photos on Twitter using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.