U.K. Weighs Deploying Jets to Nigeria in Schoolgirl Hunt

The U.K. is considering deploying new surveillance aircraft to assist Nigeria in the fight against the Islamist group Boko Haram, with options including Tornado fighter jets.

The Royal Air Force in May sent a Sentinel reconnaissance aircraft to aid in the search for more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by the group. The Ministry of Defence in London said today that it was looking at what else it could do.

“Together with our allies we have provided continuous surveillance support to the Nigerian authorities, including satellite imagery,” the MoD said in an e-mailed statement. “We are still in discussion with partners on the deployment of further surveillance capability.”

Boko Haram has been fighting since 2009 to impose Islamic law on Africa’s biggest economy and oil producer. The group whose name in the local Hausa language broadly translates as “Western education is a sin,” drew global outrage when it abducted more than 200 schoolgirls from their dormitories in northeastern Nigeria in April and threatened to sell them into slavery. Most of the girls are still missing.

Political Crisis

The abduction, and social media campaign it sparked, turned the international spotlight on Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan, plunging him into a political crisis amid accusations that his administration had been slow to react, and that he personally made no public statement about it for almost three weeks.

Jonathan told Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl who survived a Taliban gun attack two years ago to become a global advocate for girls’ education, that his government was doing everything possible to find the children without endangering them.

“The time it is taking to achieve that objective is not a question of the competence of the Nigerian government,” he said during her July visit to to the West African nation, according to a statement from his office. “We have had teams from the U.S., Britain, France, Israel and other friendly nations working with us here on the rescue effort and they all appreciate the challenges and the need to tread carefully to achieve our purpose.”

On Aug. 15, Jonathan’s office dismissed as a hoax reports that he had disclosed the girls’ whereabouts. More than four months on from the kidnap, small-scale demonstrations demanding the government work to secure their safe return are regularly held in the capital, Abuja.

Nigerian military spokesman Chris Olukolade didn’t answer calls to his mobile phone today.

One possibility for Britain would be the Tornado GR4 jet, which can carry surveillance equipment. The Times of London reported the possible deployment earlier today.

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