8 May 2014

Nigeria: Rudy Deleon - Important Gesture of American Support

After weeks of inaction, Nigeria has finally asked for outside help to free school girls kidnapped by the Islamist extremist group, Boko Haram. The US has offered technical support, says security expert, Rudy deLeon.

DW: What do you know about the team that the Obama administration is sending to Nigeria to help rescue the abducted girls?

Rudy deLeon: The details are not on the record yet, but if tradition holds it technically will be more on the law enforcement and communication side. There may be a few military advisers to assist the host country's military personnel. But mostly, this will be more like a law enforcement effort than a military effort.

President Obama talked about - and you mentioned it already - military and law enforcement officials who are part of the so-called coordinating cell. What, precisely, would be the mission of the team?

I think, first, is to provide technical assistance to the host country in terms of how to use information technologies, so they will be able to develop better communications within the country as they try to track down the network that has captured those young girls.

And what about the ability to negotiate with criminals like that?

Part of the law enforcement team are persons that are very accomplished at negotiating, keeping their cool and keeping the dialogue going so that the young women may be returned to their families peacefully. It's a skill that requires a lot of training and a lot of practice. But those on the hostage rescue side, who do this for a living, know how important that is.

Do you know of any plans to send US troops to Nigeria?

The usual practice would be that there may be some technical advisers on the military side, but I think this is best done as a local military mission. It means that outside interests are not participating directly.

Would you personally recommend doing so?

In a crisis like this we want to make sure that all the potential technical support is there to assist. That support is very appropriate. This is a huge humanitarian mission that is critical not only to the safety of those young women and their families, but also a message that a country is able to send its young children safely to school every day. The fact that the Americans are in a position to offer technical support on the law enforcement side, on the humanitarian side, is an important gesture of American support.

The initiative comes some weeks after the kidnapping of the girls. Why have US officials delayed action?

I am not sure that the American officials have delayed. I think, once the request was made, the Americans moved quickly. I suspect that the locals thought they could resolve this on their own. And only when it escalated - very inappropriate from the standpoint of the perpetrators - the call for outside help was made.

It remains unclear whether Nigerian civilian or military officials on the ground will cooperate with the team. What do you think about this?

I think there needs to be good coordination between the government and, of course, the Americans that are coming. This has been the case in other countries where this type of assistance has been offered.

On Capitol Hill, all 20 female US Senators signed a letter to Obama condemning the abductions and calling on him to press for UN sanctions against Boko Haram. Do you think the president will follow these proposals?

I think the most immediate task is to do all that is possible to find these young people and free them and have them returned to their families. Right now, that should be the focus. In the longer term, there may be many other appropriate steps. But, short term, it is the safety of these children.

The US has designated Boko Haram a terrorist group. Can you elaborate on that?

They are certainly on the radical side in terms of Islamic organizations. They are certainly not a peaceful organization, like the mainstream of Islamists groups. And what we find in some of these very radical regimes is their focus on not educating children and, in particular, not educating young girls. We have seen that in Pakistan and Afghanistan and we are seeing it now in Africa. That is contrary to all of these positive trends on better health, better education and better nutrition. For young people across the globe it is important that young girls have the same opportunity to participate as young boys in every part of the developing world.

Do you see the support for Nigeria in this situation as part of a broader US engagement in Africa?

I think the US interest in Africa is to see Africa continue on a path of economic development and modernization in terms of schools, of health and of transportation. The region is going to become very important, not only to its own people, its own citizens, but certainly to the economic interests of Europe and Asia. It will be important that there be policy considerations to ensure the successful economic rise of Nigeria and the rest of Africa.

Rudy deLeon is Senior Vice President of National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress in Washington.

Editor Gregg Benzow

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