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Eighty American service members are on the ground in North Africa to oversee drone operations in the search for the 276 abducted Nigerian schoolgirls, the Obama administration said Wednesday.
The White House formally notified Congress that the troops are in the neighboring African nation of Chad. The mission includes 40 people to operate and maintain the Predator drone and 40 more to protect the force.
“These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area,” President Barack Obama said in a letter. “The force will remain in Chad until its support in resolving the kidnapping situation is no longer required.”
The White House notified Congress under the War Powers Resolution, which kicks in when armed U.S. forces enter a foreign nation’s territory. All 80 are combat-armed for personnel protection.
The schoolgirls were taken more than a month ago by the Islamist terror group Boko Haram, which has demanded the release of militant prisoners in exchange for freeing the girls.
The commanding general of U.S. Army forces in Africa was sent to Nigeria earlier this month to help the Nigerian government in the search.
Uniformed American military were already in the region to help with embassy security and to coordinate with the Nigerian government. It was known before Wednesday that the Predator drone was involved, but not that it was based in Chad.
Boko Haram is believed to have carried out two attacks in Nigeria this week alone — a twin bombing in the city of Jos and an assault on three villages. In all, more than 166 people were killed.