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UKSF To Join Hunt For Kidnapped Schoolgirls

08.05.2014

British Special Forces have joined an international effort to find and rescue hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls who have been kidnapped by a radical Islamic terror group.

The Al-Qaeda-affiliated group, Boko Haram, is holding more than 250 girls, aged 12 to 17, following a raid on a school in the remote northeast of Nigeria on April 14th. Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau, has threatened to "sell" the girls, saying they should not have been in school in the first place, but rather should get married. [1]

The Times [2] reports that a small number of Special Air Service (SAS) liaison officers, already based in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, have been tasked with evaluating Britain's options in any search and rescue operation. They will be joined within days by a team of experts from the MoD, Foreign Office and Department for International Development, who have been dispatched from Britain to assist the Nigerian government with the crisis. The United States and France have also sent teams to help. The SAS officers are part of an on-going counter terrorism training mission in the country. While currently only consisting of a handful of men, the SAS team could be reinforced significantly if required. It has also been reported that Britain may send surveillance assets, such as R1 Sentinel aircraft.[3]

Wether Britain will commit Special Forces for a rescue operation is debatable. The Times quotes a former SAS commander who speculates that it would be unlikely that British troops would take part in any rescue mission and that a Nigerian-led solution would be preferable, citing retaliation against British interests in the region as a possible outcome. Another factor is that, unlike previous UKSF operations overseas, there are no British citizens involved in the crisis. In March 2012, a joint British-Nigerian operation to rescue 2 captives, a British and Italian citizen, who had been taken by Boko Haram, ended in tragedy when they were both shot dead by their captors in the opening moments of the rescue bid. [4] The political fallout from a similar result, this time involving hundreds of children, would be immense. For these reasons, British involvement in any rescue op may be limited to giving advice and providing intelligence support.

On the other hand, rescuing over 250 hostages, who may well be dispersed to multiple locations, from fanatical terrorists would be a highly complex and dangerous task. While Nigeria has its own special forces, its government may want to have direct help from British, American and other countries in order to increase the odds of a successful outcome (and share the blame of an unsuccessful one). A growing international call for action may also persuade western leaders, including David Cameron, to commit forces to a multi-national rescue mission.

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