To Help Nigeria Find Missing Girls, U.S. Sends In Airborne Support

The U.S. has deployed surveillance aircraft to Nigeria in the search for the more than 250 schoolgirls still missing. Imagery gathered by the aircraft and satellites will be shared with the Nigerian government.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

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And I'm Audie Cornish. We're going to take a closer look now at the U.S. effort to help Nigeria bring home nearly 300 missing school girls. They were kidnapped a month ago by the group Boko Haram. In a moment, we'll hear from a top U.S. official just back from Nigeria. But first, the U.S. military's role. The Pentagon dispatched surveillance aircraft and a team that includes military planners to the country. NPR's Tom Bowman examines how it all might help.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Officials say the missing girls are being held somewhere in a dense tropical forest, roughly the size of West Virginia. So, the U.S. sent a high-flying drone called Global Hawk. It's complete with radar that can track movements, cameras that can take high-resolution pictures from as high as 60,000 feet. Infrared sensors on board can pick up body heat on the ground, even under tree cover. Other sensors can snatch conversations from radios or cell phones. The drone can stay aloft for more than 24 hours. Also circling the skies above Nigeria is a piloted American plane called the MC-12. That aircraft can provide streaming video day and night. The spy planes are key tools to help pinpoint the girls' location and listening in on the Boko Haram kidnappers. But it's uncertain what, if anything, the aircraft have found so far. And even if the girls are located, there's no sense what the Nigerian government would do. Pentagon officials doubt any U.S. troops would take part in a military raid. So far, it's just U.S. advice and expertise. But the Nigerian military might not have the right skills to bring the girls home. Here's Pentagon official Alice Friend testifying before the Senate today.

ALICE FRIEND: Nigerian security forces have been slow to adopt with new strategies, new doctrines and new tactics.

BOWMAN: And that could put pressure on the U.S. and its partners, France and Britain, to play an even larger role. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.

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