Fifteen-year-old Boko Haram attack survivor Deborah Peter, from the village of Chibok, Nigeria, is joined by U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., right, and ranking member Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., for a press conference Wednesday on Capitol Hill. / Alex Wong, Getty Images
is sending 80 U.S. troops to Nigeria's eastern neighbor, Chad, to help find 276
Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamist terrorists.
Obama, who made the announcement in a letter Wednesday to House Speaker John Boehner, described their mission as mainly surveillance support, such as operating drones.
"These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area," the letter said.
Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, welcomed the troop deployment, which he said is "vital in generating actionable intelligence for the search."
Royce urged that the troops play a role beyond surveillance. "U.S. security personnel should be in Nigeria advising and assisting those engaged in the rescue efforts," he said. "Anything less would be insufficient in responding to the pressing threat that (terror group) Boko Haram poses to the region and U.S. interests."
About 70 U.S. troops were sent earlier this month to the Nigerian capital, Abuja, to work with military units from the United Kingdom, France and Israel, who are also assisting in the search.
The American troops in Nigeria are limited by the Leahy Law, an amendment that denies U.S. support to foreign military units suspected of human rights abuses. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have lodged complaints that the Nigerian military has killed hundreds of civilians in its war on Boko Haram.
Boko Haram, which seized the girls in an April 14 raid and has threatened to sell them into slavery, operates in territory that spans an arc from Niger to Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon, said J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa program at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington, D.C.
The terror group, whose name means "Western education is sinful," has killed hundreds of Christian and Muslim Nigerians in its quest to establish a religious state in Nigeria based on its extreme interpretation of Islamic law.
Sending troops to neighboring Chad means Obama "skirts" Leahy Law issues, said Pham. "There is also a question about whether the Nigerian security forces are reliable or penetrated by people who are sympathizers or willing to use Boko Haram to score political points against the Nigerian government."
The United States does not share raw intelligence with the Nigerians for that reason and because of concerns about the reliability of Nigeria's command staff, Pham said.
The Nigerian 7th Army Division, which is in charge of searching for the girls, mutinied last week and shot up the car of its commanding officer, Maj. Gen. Ahmadu Mohammed, according to numerous Nigerian media reports. The government later said he was sacked.
In contrast, the French-trained and -supplied Chadian military is considered the most disciplined and well trained in West Africa, said John Campbell, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria.
The U.S. deployment to Chad raises questions about mission creep and complicates the U.S. mission in Nigeria, Campbell said.
"Are we going to see similar deployments to Cameroon and Niger," where Boko Haram is also known to operate? And "how far is the administration willing to go to committing U.S. human resources to the search?" Campbell said.
Also, any American military presence in West Africa "risks sparking an anti-colonial backlash," Campbell said.
That's especially true in Nigeria, where Nigerian media quote politicians already saying the U.S., British and French have so far contributed nothing to finding the girls.
"That's a sign of the direction things can move," Campbell said.
Contributing: Ray Locker in Washington
Follow @OrenDorell on Twitter
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