Defense Official Says Nigeria Too Slow in Fighting Boko Haram

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A top Defense Department official on Thursday strongly criticized the Nigerian government for an ineffective campaign against Boko Haram, the terrorists who have held 376 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls for a month.

Nigerian security forces have been too slow to change their strategy and tactics to fight the group, Alice Friend, the department’s principal director for Africa, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

At the same hearing, a State Department official blamed Boko Haram, which is opposed to Western-style education and the education of girls, for killing more than 1,000 people this year in attacks on schools, churches and mosques.

“In general, Nigeria has failed to mount an effective campaign against Boko Haram,” Friend told the committee.

The terror group released a video early this week showing some of the girls, apparently in good health, and demanding the release of militant prisoners in exchange for the girls’ release.

American reconnaissance planes have flown over Nigeria this week looking for the girls, and Nigerian officials have said that all options are open, including negotiating with Boko Haram or launching a military rescue with foreign help.

The State Department official at the hearing, Africa specialist Robert Jackson, told the committee that resolving the crisis of the kidnapped girls is now one of the highest priorities of the U.S. government.”

He said that the abduction of the girls is part of a “long, terrible trend” that has left 1,000 people dead this year in attacks on schools, churches and mosques.

Jackson told the committee that the Obama administration is helping Nigeria strengthen its intelligence and law enforcement capability and is seeking worldwide sanctions against Boko Haram through the United Nations.

— Erin McClam

The Associated Press contributed to this report.