Abuja: US experts have arrived in Nigeria to help rescue more than 200 schoolgirls being held hostage by Boko Haram militants, an embassy spokeswoman told AFP on Friday.
“They are here...the team is on the ground,” Rhonda Ferguson-Augustus said, without specifying the precise make-up of the group.
US officials have previously said Washington would send military personnel as well as specialists from the Justice Department and the FBI.
Britain, France and China have also offered varying levels of assistance, including planning and coordination specialists as well intelligence and satellite imagery.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Nigeria’s capital Abuja on Friday, President Goodluck Jonathan restated that his country was “totally committed to getting these girls back.”
Nigeria’s initial response to the April 14 mass abduction in the north-eastern town of Chibok was widely criticised, and for several days Jonathan said very little about the shocking attack.
But this week outrage over the girls plight has spread across the world, helped by a growing social media campaign with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.
The campaign has drawn support from celebrities and prominent personalities ranging from US First Lady Michelle Obama to the actress Angelina Jolie.
A chilling video by Boko Haram’s leader Abu Bakr Shekau, in which the wanted Islamist leader threatened to sell the hostages “in the market”, has also raised awareness about the attack.
As global concern has mounted, top Nigerian officials have sought to appear more engaged with the rescue effort.
National Security Advisor Sambo Dasuki, top army brass and police chief Mohammad Abu Bakr made a joint visit on Thursday to Chibok, which falls in Nigeria’s restive and deeply impoverished north east, where Boko Haram was founded more than a decade ago.
Earlier on Thursday, the United States said it was considering a request by Nigeria to provide surveillance aircraft.
“The Nigerians have asked for assistance in that area and we are considering it,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US assistant-secretary of state for African Affairs, said in an interview.
Thomas-Greenfield said the United States has worked with Nigeria since September on improving the African country’s ability to fight Boko Haram following a request by Jonathan to President Barack Obama.
Obama has vowed to “do to everything we can” to help find the girls.
While Nigeria has sought help from the United States, the government had often been reluctant to take the advice, according to US officials. Cooperation has also been complicated by international concerns about human rights abuses by Nigerian security forces in the north east.
Human rights groups have highlighted illegal detentions, torture and deaths of prisoners at Giwa Barracks where the Nigerian military has imprisoned young men accused of being Boko Haram members in the past several years. Many prisoners held were bystanders rounded up in mass sweeps, rights groups say.
Thomas-Greenfield said Jonathan has been “very, very receptive” to the latest offer for US assistance and assigned his national security adviser to work with the US teams.
“I caution that we can’t make this our own problem because Nigerians have to be front and centre, we can’t lead it and we can’t fix it.”