Can US drones find the missing Nigerian schoolgirls?

In the more than eight months since more than 200 schoolgirls were captured by Islamic militants in Nigeria, most are still missing, despite periodic reports about their imminent release. For the latest on the search and the increasing tensions between Nigeria and the United States, Drew Hinshaw of the Wall Street Journal joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype from Ghana.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:

    It was last April, more than eight month, since more than 200 school girls were captured by Islamic militants in Nigeria. And though there have been periodic reports about their imminent release, not one of them has been found or freed.

    For the latest on the search and the increasing tensions between Nigeria and the United States, we are joined once again by Drew Hinshaw of "The Wall Street Journal." He's reporting tonight from Accra in nearby Ghana.

    So, I think the question on most Americans' minds is why haven't we found these girls and why are we hearing about more kidnappings throughout the year by Boko Haram?

  • DREW HINSHAW, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:

    The short answer is that Boko Haram is doing something very much like winning in the northeast of Nigeria. The girls, there are 270 — I'm sorry, 276 at first. Now, it's down to 219 after a number of them escaped. And that's just a small segment of the total number of people Boko Haram has kidnapped. It's a sect that controls a very large section of northeastern Nigeria, that includes mountains, caves, forests, small towns, even small cities at this point. It's kind of a really hard thing to find individual girls who have all been split up at this point.

    Early on, in May, the U.S. sent drones and manned surveillance flights, and they did spot large groups of girls twice in June and July. They have no idea if those are the girls or if those are a separate group of girls that Boko Haram kidnapped. But they did find large groups of girls kind of camped out the field.

    Since then, the U.S. has scaled back. They sent drones elsewhere where they're need elsewhere. They were flying just a few manned flights a week last time I checked in. The Nigerian government by itself says it knows the location of the girls but can't get them out.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What's happened to them?

  • DREW HINSHAW:

    Boko Haram, they don't see– they don't see the girls as having any value to them. They kind of aren't cut out for life in the militant group. But, frankly, they're not going to get rid of them, either. It seems like there's sort of an impasse. There's not a lot of trust between Nigeria's government and Boko Haram to come to some sort of negotiated settlement either.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, sort of two relationships I want to explore very briefly. One, the tensions in those negotiations between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government but there's also seems an increased amount of tension between the Nigerian government and U.S. government.

  • DREW HINSHAW:

    So, the fact that when it comes to communication between Boko Haram and Nigeria's government, it's a lot of speculation.

    In February, President Goodluck Jonathan basically said he doesn't talk to them. He said that journalists talk to him more than he does. And when he said that, I kind of furrowed my brow because frankly I don't know a single journalist who has been able to have a confirmed, verifiable conversation with Boko Haram in the past couple of years.

    Since then, in October, Nigeria's government said, hey, look, we've got this breakthrough, we've been talking to them, they're going to release these girls. In fact, they said they're going to release all the captives Boko Haram has ever taken, which is, you know, hundreds and hundreds if not thousands of men, boys, women, and children.

    They never did. Boko Haram, they came out with a tape a few days later saying: joke's on you. We have no intention the negotiating with you. You are an infidel government and we will continue waging jihad.

    The Nigerians are frustrated by this. And I think some of that anger is being deflected against the United States. There's been a lot of statements lately like, well, we could deal with Boko Haram, but the fact is there's big neocolonial power, America, won't let us buy helicopters because they say we're abusing human rights, right conditions (ph).

    I think some of that is political posturing. There is an election in February, and Nigeria is looking for — the government is looking for a reason why they haven't wrapped up now a five-yearlong conflict with Boko Haram.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right. Drew Hinshaw of "The Wall Street Journal", joining us tonight from Accra, Ghana — thanks so much.

  • DREW HINSHAW:

    Thank you, too.