Michelle Obama Says Nigerian Girls’ Abductions Hit Home

First Lady Michelle Obama said the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls last month by an Islamist militant group drives home the importance of education as a way to lift families out of poverty.

The first lady, delivering her first solo White House weekly address, said the abduction triggered a personal reaction from her and U.S. President Barack Obama.

“In these girls, Barack and I see our own daughters,” Michelle Obama said in a video released today. The Obamas daughters, Sasha and Malia, are 12 and 15. “We see their hopes, their dreams -– and we can only imagine the anguish their parents are feeling right now.”

The first lady said in her remarks, broadcast the day before Mother’s Day, that 65 million girls around the world are not in school. She tied the kidnappings by the Boko Haram terror group to separate efforts to keep young women in other parts of the world out of school, including the shooting of Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan by the Taliban. Educated women, she said, earn more and raise healthier families, boosting national incomes.

“Barack has directed our government to do everything possible to support the Nigerian government’s efforts to find these girls and bring them home,” she said.

The U.S. has joined the U.K. and France in sending security personnel and other support to the West African nation to help locate the students, some of them as young as 15.

Aiding Nigeria

The president, speaking on May 7 at a Holocaust remembrance dinner, said he understands the limits of his power. “I think about young girls in Nigeria or children caught up in the conflict in Syria,” he said, and “there are times in which I want to reach out and save those kids -- and having to think through what levers, what power do we have at any given moment, I think, ‘drop by drop by drop,’ that we can erode and wear down these forces that are so destructive.”

Michelle Obama said the determination of the abducted girls to pursue their education in the face of threats should be an example for students in the U.S. to take their studies seriously.

“Clearly, they’re personally moved by this story and want to be seen to be doing something,” Richard Downie, deputy director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said of the Obamas.

Downie said while the Obama and other world leaders took weeks to speak out or act, the blame lies with the Nigerian government for failing to act decisively in the first 24 hours.

‘Every Asset’

Republican Senator John McCain said on CNN yesterday that the U.S. “should have utilized every asset that we have, satellite, drones, any capabilities that we had to go after them” as soon as the abductions were known.

Downie said the U.S. doesn’t have ready-for-action troops nearby, and even if there had been a decision to send U.S. special forces on a mission, “It would have been an incredibly risky operation” that may have imperiled the lives of the girls. Now, Downie said, the kidnapped girls “could be anywhere.”

“I’m pretty pessimistic,” he said. “I don’t imagine we’ll be waking up tomorrow morning reading that the Navy Seals have rescued 200 schoolgirls.”

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