South Africans protest May 8 in solidarity against the abduction of Nigerian schoolgirls in Nigeria. (Ben Curtis/The Associated Press)
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The Air Force is flying manned MC-12W Liberty and unmanned RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance sorties over Nigeria to assist in locating more than 200 girls kidnapped by militants.
The Nigerian government requested the flights, and the Defense Department is “focused on helping them find the school girls,” Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col Myles Caggins said Thursday.
“We will continue to deepen and widen our efforts in assisting them to locate these girls,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the same day during a visit to Saudi Arabia. “I have seen no intelligence come back that I’m aware of that shows that we’ve located those girls.”
On April 15, the militant group Boko Haram kidnapped the girls from their school. On Monday, the group released a video showing about 100 of the girls praying. The group said it is open to exchanging the students for the release of terrorists imprisoned in Nigeria.
The Defense Department has sent more than 10 personnel to the country to help with the search. The troops are trained in intelligence, communications and logistics, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said May 9.
The Defense Department would not release the number of sorties or the specific origin of the flights “due to operational security concerns,” Caggins said.
Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said May 14 that the department is not sharing the intelligence directly with the Nigerian government, and is instead working on establishing “intelligence-sharing protocols.”
The MC-12W Liberty manned aircraft is a modified Hawker Beechcraft Super King Air 350 outfitted with sensors and cameras. The aircraft has seen extensive use in Afghanistan. The RQ-4 Global Hawk is the Air Force’s largest remotely piloted aircraft, and has been deployed to provide high-altitude surveillance. Global Hawks have deployed to the Middle East and flown “treaty verification” missions in the Middle East, Air Force officials have said.