The Pentagon isn't sending a team of special forces or a unit of Marines to Nigeria anytime soon to help free the hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped last month.
Instead, Washington is sending a team of U.S. officials, including small numbers of uniformed military personnel, to help the Nigerian government locate the girls and bring them back safely. The leaders of Boko Haram, the militant group behind the kidnapping, are now threatening to sell the girls as slaves.
"Obviously it's a heartbreaking situation," President Obama told ABC on Tuesday. "We've already sent in a team to Nigeria - they've accepted our help through a combination of military, law enforcement, and other agencies who are going in, trying to identify where in fact these girls might be and provide them help."
The abduction of 276 teenage girls from a rural school in the northeastern region of the country on April 14 sparked widespread outrage around the world and prompted violent protests against the government of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. On Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Jonathan and offered a package of U.S. law enforcement, intelligence and military assistance to help rescue the girls.
State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki, at a press briefing two hours after Kerry and Jonathan spoke, hinted that the American response would come from a number of U.S. government agencies, including the Pentagon.
"It would include U.S. military personnel, law enforcement officials with expertise in investigations and hostage negotiations, as well as officials with expertise in other areas that can be - that may be helpful to the Nigerian government in its response," Psaki said.
That fed speculation that the U.S. was considering sending in a company of Marines or a Special Forces unit that could potentially find and rescue the girls. Not far away, in Uganda, the Pentagon has deployed more than 150 Special Forces troops to aid in the capture of fugitive rebel commander Joseph Kony.
But it's unlikely anything of that scope is envisioned in Nigeria, at least for now. The only plan currently under consideration is to send a small number of military personnel as part of a larger U.S. team, a Pentagon official said. "We're going to provide all the help we can to the Nigerians," said the official, adding that there are no plans to deploy a full unit of troops.
Currently, there are no U.S. forces on the ground in Nigeria other than the small contingent of military personnel, including Marine security guards, that would be typically assigned to the U.S. embassy in Abuja. The Pentagon had not yet received a request from the Nigeria government for assistance, Defense Department officials said.
The leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of the girls Monday. In a video message released to Nigerian news outlets, a man purporting to be Shekau said his group had kidnapped the girls, referred to them as slaves and claimed he would "sell them in the market, by Allah."
Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP