(AFP) – The US military is flying surveillance drones as well as manned aircraft over Nigeria to help in the search for more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamist extremists, the Pentagon said Wednesday.
The United States has deployed the robotic Global Hawk, which flies at a high altitude, and the manned MC-12, a turboprop plane heavily used in Afghanistan, for the mission, a defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.
The Pentagon had initially declined to say publicly if drones were being used but acknowledged on Wednesday the robotic aircraft were involved in the hunt to find the girls.
“I can confirm that we’re using both manned and unmanned aerial ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) assets in the search for the kidnapped girls,” Colonel Steven Warren told reporters, without identifying the plane models.
Both types of aircraft that were deployed are “unarmed” and are being used strictly for surveillance to help track the location of the missing schoolgirls, he added.
The unmanned Global Hawk, designed to succeed the U-2 spy plane, can survey a vast area of about 40,000 square miles (100,000 square kilometers) in a day with its sophisticated radar and sensors.
Data from the spy planes is not yet being shared with the Nigerians, however, as Washington was still working out an agreement to govern the sharing of intelligence, Warren said.
The Americans insist on precise protocols on how intelligence can be passed on to other countries, fearing that sensitive information could fall into an adversary’s hands.
The commander of US forces in Africa, General David Rodriguez, paid a two-day visit to Nigeria this week to discuss how Washington can aid the government in the kidnapping crisis, including an accord on intelligence sharing.
Boko Haram extremists abducted 276 girls from the remote northeastern town of Chibok in Borno state on April 14, and some 223 are still missing.
The militants on Monday released a new video purporting to show some of the girls.