Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday, offering to “provide expertise on intelligence, investigations and hostage negotiations” in the search for the nearly 300 schoolgirls who were kidnapped three weeks ago.
President Jonathan accepted the offer on the same day suspected gunmen kidnapped eight more girls in the African country.
“We remain deeply concerned about the welfare of these young girls,” Kerry told NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell. “And we want to provide whatever assistance in order to help for their safe return to their families.”
Kerry said that the U.S. has been in touch with Nigeria since day one, but “the complications that have arisen convinced everybody that there needs to be a greater effort.”
The secretary said the aid effort will take place immediately.
The Islamist military group Boko Haram claimed responsibility this week for the mass abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Nigeria on April 14. They also threatened to “sell” the young women on the market.
The U.S. Senate officially condemned the abduction of the girls on Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was concerned about the “very tepid” response from the Nigerian government to fight terrorism.
“I’ve had a lot of titles in my life – officer, lieutenant governor and majority leader – but the title that has meant the most to me has always been ‘father,’” Reid said on the Senate floor. “I have five children. The oldest is my only daughter, Lana. I also have 12 granddaughters. As a father and grandfather, I can’t imagine the horror of having my precious girls abducted. But for hundreds of families in Nigeria, my nightmare is their reality.”
A group of lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sens. Barbara Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland, and Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina, later gathered on the east steps of the Capitol to participate in a moment of silence for the victims.
Boko Haram, responsible for at least 1,500 deaths this year, has been known for attacking schools, police stations, government buildings, and churches.
President Barack Obama issued orders “to do everything we can to help the Nigerian government find and free these young women,” said State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki.
The teenage girls range in age from 16 to 18. The suspected kidnappers took the girls from their dormitories at a school in the town of Chibok three weeks ago, and drove away with them in trucks during the middle of the night.
Parents of the students and the international community have placed pressure on Jonathan’s administration as the conflict between Christians and Muslims continues to escalate in Africa’s most populous nation.
The militant group advocates enforcing Sharia law and opposes education. Boko Haram translates to “Western education is forbidden.”
Kerry also said that he planned to meet with Obama to discuss the international issue and any additional efforts the U.S. may carry out.
“I think the White House will have more to say about what we are going to be doing,” Kerry told NBC News. “But the simple answer is we’re going to do everything in our power to be able to be helpful.”