Canada working with U.S., Britain to help search for kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls
Karolyn Coorsh, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, May 8, 2014 7:08PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, May 8, 2014 10:19PM EDT
Ottawa is working with its western allies on a "co-ordinated response” to help Nigeria rescue hundreds of abducted schoolgirls, a senior Canadian government source has confirmed to CTV News.
The government official told CTV’s Mercedes Stephenson that Canada is working closely with the United States and Great Britain, “both here, in our capitals and on the ground in Nigeria.
“We are prepared to commit whatever assistance we can provide and leverage our resources together.”
News of a joint effort from the three western nations comes one day after Canada announced it would be supplying surveillance equipment to Nigeria to help find more than 270 schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamic insurgents.
Terror group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, and its leader has threatened to sell the girls into slavery.
Deepak Obhrai, parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, said Canada has “extended help” to the Nigerian government and is working with international allies.
“We are co-ordinating with the Americans, and the British, making a joint effort so that whatever we do, we do as one entity (for) the Nigerians, which is more effective,” Obhrai said.
Obhrai did not indicate, however, whether Canada would be providing resources beyond the surveillance equipment and technical personnel.
During Wednesday’s question period, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said any equipment that goes to Nigeria would be accompanied by Canadian military personnel to operate it.
"We've offered support to the Nigerian government. If Canada has surveillance equipment that is not in the region that could provide assistance to find these young girls, we'd obviously be pleased to provide it," Baird said.
Development Minister Christian Paradis said Canadian and Nigerian diplomats are still working out the details of Canada's offer of assistance. Paradis was in Nigeria this week for the World Economic Forum on Africa.
Earlier this week, the U.S. government announced it would send military personnel and law enforcement officials to assist with the investigation into the abducted schoolgirls, who have been missing for three weeks.
The kidnappings have prompted global condemnation as authorities look at possible ways to get the girls back safely. The options include a potential prisoner exchange, negotiations with the terrorist group, or a hostage rescue mission.
Any attempts at a co-ordinated rescue mission will be extremely difficult, says the former commander of the Canadian military’s Special Operations Forces.
“The challenge from my perspective would be synchronizing and harmonizing those tactical forces as they move through, to attempt those hostage rescues,” said retired Lt.-Col. Stephen Day, former head of Joint Task Force 2, Canada’s counterterrorism unit. “That is extremely difficult if you only have one hostage – you can only imagine that these 200-plus young women, they could be in 200 different locations.”
But a mission in which rescuers converge on the same places at the same time is essential, or the mission risks jeopardizing the hostages' safety even further, Day said.
“Without great intelligence, the chances for mission success significantly decline, so from a Canadian special operations perspective, we pride ourselves on setting the conditions through intelligence, understanding what’s going on in the battle space, understanding all the atmospherics, understanding the tactical conditions,” he said.
“But no plan in a hostage rescue situation is ever guaranteed – it is the most difficult task that we ask military planners to plan for,” he said.
Day also said that the terrain in northern Nigeria “is difficult to operate in.”
U.S. intelligence sources suggest the girls have already been split up. There is also speculation that a prisoner swap may be in the works.
“These girls are worth a lot to Boka Haram alive, so that raises the hope and expectation that maybe there’s possibly a negotiated solution here,” said Africa expert Richard Downie.
With files from The Canadian Press