Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said on Friday he believed the schoolgirls abducted by Islamist militants last month in an attack that has stirred global outrage are still in his country and have not been moved to neighboring Cameroon.
Jonathan's government has been criticized for its slow response to the hostage crisis since the abductions by Boko Haram militants and it is the first time he has said where he thinks the girls are being held.
"There are stories that they have moved them outside of the country. But if they move that number of girls to Cameroon, people will see, so I believe they are still in Nigeria,'' Jonathan told journalists.
"We are also working with the experts that will use remote sensors to see them [insurgents] wherever they are. So that basically says they are within the Sambisa area,'' Jonathan said, referring to a forest that is a known Boko Haram hideout near the school from where the girls were abducted.
He was speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in the Nigerian capital. The event was designed to showcase investment opportunities in what is Africa's biggest economy but has been overshadowed by the kidnapping and a broader threat of militant attacks.
Earlier Friday, the U.S. military said almost a dozen staff officers were in Nigeria and would form the core part of the U.S. team to aid in finding nearly 300 schoolgirls. About 10 more to be sent from AFRICOM in coming days, likely from headquarters in Stuttgart, a Pentagon official said. The team will be based at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, he said.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said the team is “sharply focused” on crisis and “moving as quickly as possible.” He added that the team would provide "higher-level advice" and assistance to Nigerian officials. Discussions about ways to share information - and the possible use of drones - is still ongoing with the Nigerian government.
Parents of the kidnapped girls said troops had arrived on Thursday in Chibok on a mission to find the girls.
"There are about three military helicopters hovering around our town and many soldiers have just arrived," said Maina Chibok, whose 16-year-old daughter is among the missing. "They are moving and advancing toward the bush. We hope they succeed in rescuing our daughters."
British experts also arrived in Nigeria on Friday to advise the government on the search.
Jeff Seldin contributed to this report from the Pentagon