The United States said on Friday it had decreased its surveillance flights in the search for the about 219 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram, but added that the overall effort was unchanged due to more flights by other countries.
It stated that it had no idea of the location of the girls, noting however that there is no letup in the efforts to locate and rescue them.
“We don’t have any better idea today than we did before about where these girls are, but there’s been no letup of the effort itself,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters, according to Reuters.
Kirby said the same level of effort was being sustained now through international involvement.
A US defence official speaking on condition of anonymity said American flights had been reduced only after a body of intelligence had been gathered and that the cuts had been offset by the British and the French support.
Kirby denied a suggestion that US flights over Nigeria had been reduced to accommodate increased US surveillance over Iraq, where Washington is flying unmanned and manned aircraft to gather intelligence about Sunni insurgents.
He said some of the resources that were being used in Nigeria had been diverted from other missions in Africa and could now be used elsewhere on the continent.
Officials declined to say how long heightened U.S. surveillance over Nigeria had lasted.
Asked whether it was just a week or two, the defence official said, “No. We were building this baseline for a good period of time.”
US surveillance flights over Nigeria were now intermittent, the source said.
US military personnel are in Abuja helping to coordinate the effort, and some 80 others were sent to Chad in May to support the surveillance operation.
Chad is northeast of Nigeria and borders the area in which Boko Haram is known to operate.
In the last month, US officials had played down expectations about a swift rescue of the girls and stressed the limitations of intelligence from surveillance flights.
One US official voiced concerns that Boko Haram might have booby-trapped areas where the girls could be held, and there had been reports that they might have been split up into groups that were not being held in one place.
The defence official said surveillance alone would not lead to a resolution. “It will take the Nigerian piece of the equation with their own sources and human intelligence coupled with the other forms to really understand the picture,” he noted.
In an opinion piece in the Washington Post on Friday, President Goodluck Jonathan said his government and security services had “spared no resources, have not stopped and will not stop until the girls are returned home.”