State Department Daily Briefing: U.S. Assistance to Nigeria (May 7, 2014)

QUESTION: I’ve got two questions on Nigeria.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Hi, by the way.

MS. PSAKI: Hello.

QUESTION: Can you repeat once more what the support looks like that you’re going to provide to the Nigerian Government?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I have a little bit of an update too, so maybe I’ll do this all in one. As we announced yesterday and the Secretary announced, we have offered assistance to the Nigerian Government. President Jonathan accepted our offer of assistance, and we’re moving swiftly to put in place a team at our Embassy in Abuja that can provide military, law enforcement, and information-sharing assistance in support of Nigeria’s efforts to find and free the girls.

Our Embassy in Abuja is standing up an interdisciplinary team – this is what we specifically offered – to coordinate with the Nigerian Government. This morning, our ambassador met with the Nigerian national security advisor. AFRICOM will send a team shortly to assess Nigerian needs. Our legal attache has been in touch with Nigerian police. The FBI stands ready to send additional personnel to provide technical and investigatory assistance, including expertise on hostage negotiations, and USAID is working with partners on what we can do to be ready to provide victims assistance.

So that all falls into the various categories I mentioned yesterday as a part of a, interdisciplinary team that would have representatives from different government agencies.

QUESTION: A follow-up question on that one: When you look at the terror group Boko Haram and you look at other terror groups you might be concerned about anywhere in Africa whatsoever, where do you rank this terror group in terms of your concerns?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to do a ranking, but I will tell you that obviously, the fact that we designated Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization last year and we’ve increased our efforts cooperating on counterterrorism in many parts of Northern Africa, not just Nigeria, tells you what you need to know about our level of concern and our focus on Boko Haram.

QUESTION: One more on the assistance?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is there enough intelligence either from the U.S. or from Nigeria suggesting that all of these students are being held together? I ask only because there’s so much emphasis on dealing with hostage negotiations and trying to provide victim assistance. It sounds as if there’s already a sense of where these girls actually are.

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to get into that level of detail, Ros. Obviously, we have a range of capabilities. We’ve made an offer, of course, to cooperate, and we expect that will be – (cell phone rings) – oh, that’s quite a festive ring – (laughter) – that we expect that things will be proceeding in days, not weeks. But I don’t want to get into, from the podium, an assessment of where we think things stand on that front.

QUESTION: And do you have anything more on reports in that same province of Nigeria that there may have been another major attack launched by Boko Haram today?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything on that report. Let me check, Ros, with our team and see if there’s more we have on that.

On Nigeria? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Would you categorize this assistance as a U.S. military operation?

MS. PSAKI: I would categorize it as an interdisciplinary team to coordinate with Nigerian authorities. There are military – military is a part of that, and as I mentioned, in addition to, of course, AFRICOM sending a team, we have a broad range of resources within the United States Government we’ll offer.

QUESTION: Now, when you’re sending this team, I mean, is it your expectation that they’re going to be able to get there and start working right away, or do you think that once they get on the ground, there will be like – then there will be negotiations about the scope and breadth of their work?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we expect additional personnel to be on the ground arriving in the next few days. Obviously, this is in the interests of the Nigerian Government to accept every aspect of our assistance. They conveyed that they were willing to do that yesterday, and it continues to be in their interest to be as cooperative as possible. So —

QUESTION: I understand it’s in their – obviously in their interest, but is it your expectation that once they go, then negotiations will begin on what they’re actually able to do? Or is it your understanding from your discussions with the Nigerians that once they go, the agreement is that they’ll be able to do the work that you propose?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. Our understanding is the agreement is they’ll be able to do the work that we’ve proposed. Naturally, as a part of that, there’s an assessment period of what the needs are and how we can best assist, and the Nigerian Government continues to have the lead. It’s not, of course, a unilateral process we’re conveying here.

QUESTION: Right. There just has been a kind of frustration expressed by some in this government that while the Nigerians have in – it’s more that they’ve, in theory, accepted your help —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — but that it’s going to be, like, more of a kind of tough negotiation in terms of what you’re actually going to be able to do on the ground.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I believe the Secretary, from his phone call, feels it wasn’t that they just accepted in theory. They did accept our assistance, and there will need to be a discussion about how to best coordinate moving forward, but that will be happening in the coming days.

Catherine, go ahead, and then we’ll go to you next, Arshad.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you a couple of specifics? DOD says the team is going to be about 10 people. How many people do you expect overall? How many people are already there? Any sorts of numbers that you can give us, and a timetable on when additional people will be coming in?

MS. PSAKI: In a matter of days, additional people will be coming in. Obviously, there are some agencies who are able to assess the specific numbers, but some of this we’re still evaluating, and part of that is what’s being discussed through interagency meetings in preparation.

QUESTION: And has Secretary Kerry spoken with President Jonathan today?

MS. PSAKI: He has not spoken with him today, no.

QUESTION: Any more planned calls?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, but we can keep you all updated on that.

QUESTION: And then the British are also sending in a small team. Can you talk a little bit about – they said in their statement that they would be working with a U.S. team. Can you talk a little bit about that cooperation?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any other specifics. Obviously, we work very closely with the British in a range of these efforts, and I’m certain that our interdisciplinary team that has a range of assets will be coordinating with those that they send, but some of that is still being worked out given this was just announced yesterday.

QUESTION: Another question on the troops: The Pentagon went to great lengths to stress that these 10 uniformed personnel would not be the first wave of a larger U.S. military presence, certainly there would be no special forces involved in this operation. Was there ever any discussion, any offer from the U.S. to Nigeria about making many more troops available to help the Nigerian army? And if there was any resistance from the Nigerians, was that expected?

MS. PSAKI: Roz, I would – not that I’m aware of, but I would point you to DOD on any questions about that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jen, I understand you may not be able to give a precise number, but will the additional U.S. personnel going into Nigeria, including law enforcement, military, presumably FBI or others – is it going to be dozens, do you think, or —

MS. PSAKI: Let me – it’s a fair question. I just don’t want to put a number on it before we have a full assessment, so let me see where we are and if there’s a number we can get that around, or a broad number, I should say.

QUESTION: Jen —

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: — when you say that agencies like USAID stand ready to help, does that mean that there have been specific requests by the Nigerian Government for specific help that they can provide? Or are they just waiting for the —

MS. PSAKI: It means we are assessing what the specific needs are. And obviously, USAID is ready to help if there are specific USAID needs, and as you know, they’re very well versed in getting those out as quickly as possible. But again, we’re still assessing at this point where we can help specifically.

QUESTION: And – yeah, sorry. I didn’t mean just USAID, but it sounds like a lot of this is still rather conditional, the legal attaches and —

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t characterize it that way. What it is, is we are – obviously, the Nigerian Government has the lead in this effort, and we’re not putting together a unilateral interagency or interdisciplinary team here. We are there to assist and fill in where they have needs. So we need to assess that and determine where they have needs and integrate ours as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: So you’re – you’ll do the assessment, or they’ll do the assessment and tell you what they need?

MS. PSAKI: We’ll work with them.

QUESTION: A joint assessment.

MS. PSAKI: We’ll jointly work with them to do that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: What took so long in designating Boko Haram a terrorist organization?

MS. PSAKI: Well obviously, Lucas, as you know, we did that last fall, if I’m remembering correctly —

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

MS. PSAKI: — in November. And there are a range of criteria that go into a decision like that. I don’t have anything to lay out for you in terms of internal decision making, but perhaps we can connect you with our CT team, and if they have more to convey, they’ll be – they’re the experts.

QUESTION: They have been killing and kidnapping people for a long time, for years.

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, designating them sends a strong message about how concerned we are about them.

Do we – Nigeria? Should we finish Nigeria? Go ahead.

QUESTION: One last question following up.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: So the decision to send some help and provide some help to the Nigerian Government, has this been taken due to the atrocity of this crime now, or because, as you said, they’ve been going on for a while, for years murdering people and that you’ve been watching them for a long time?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s important to note that we have been providing a range of assistance before the announcement yesterday. So that was specifically an interdisciplinary team related to this horrific kidnapping of the young girls in Nigeria. But to date, our counterterrorism assistance to Nigeria because of threats like Boko Haram has focused on information sharing and improving Nigeria’s forensics and investigative capacity. We’ve been working with them to strengthen their criminal justice system, increase confidence in the government by supporting its efforts to hold those responsible for violence accountable. We’ve provided approximately $3 million just last year in law enforcement assistance to Nigeria to help boost up their capacity.

So we have been concerned and have provided a range of assistance, and been working closely on counterterrorism efforts long before yesterday. That was just a specific announcement as it related to these recent tragic events.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Change topic?

MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Nigeria?

QUESTION: Yeah, one question more.

MS. PSAKI: One more. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. know why this happened? Is there any intelligence on this? This is a problem internally inside Nigeria, or this is a message to the world, or what’s the reason of this?

MS. PSAKI: I can’t do an analysis for you on that. Obviously, Boko Haram, as many of you have noted, has been guilty of a range of horrific – what am I trying to say?

QUESTION: Acts?

MS. PSAKI: Horrific acts – thank you, Arshad, for the assist – horrific acts in the past, and I don’t think we’re going to analyze the steps of a terrorist.

QUESTION: But the fact that you’ve said yourselves that you think that they have taken them to neighboring countries, does that suggest that there is kind of a growth of the group beyond Nigeria?

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to talk to our C team – CT team and see if that is their analysis. Obviously, we’ve talked about Boko Haram and its proliferation in past months.