Face of Agulu

Face of Agulu

Australia’s special forces soldiers are on standby to join American and British counterparts to rescue more than 200 schoolgirls

Operation Slipper-SOTGAustralia’s special forces soldiers are on standby to join American and British counterparts to rescue more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Nigerian militant Islamist group Boko Haram.

The West Australian understands that Australia is willing to send specialist troops to Nigeria as well as provide counterterrorist and intelligence support if requested.

The US and Britain have offered President Goodluck Jonathan’s Government assistance to free the schoolgirls.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and a couple of other ministers on the National Security Committee decided to offer Australia’s assistance to the US and Britain a fortnight ago.

Ms Bishop spoke by phone to her British counterpart William Hague on May 21 to confirm a willingness to assist in a multinational action on Boko Haram.

“Good conversation with @JulieBishopMP about Nigeria, & UK summit on ending sexual violence in conflict. I welcome Australia’s strong support,” the British Foreign Secretary said on Twitter a short time after.

Boko Haram, which translates as “Western education is sinful”, has links to the al-Qaida terrorist network. It has killed thousands of people as part of its campaign to form a breakaway Islamic state in northern Nigeria.

The abduction of more than 200 girls from a north-eastern Nigerian village on April 14 caused international outrage and prompted a “Bring back our girls” campaign that has included US First Lady Michelle Obama and the cream of Hollywood.

But Western intelligence agencies have long worried about Boko Haram’s growing influence through West Africa, not just in oil-rich Nigeria.

There are concerns Boko Haram might help radicalise other parts of the region, imperilling Western interests in Africa and abroad.

The US and Britain have sent military, diplomatic and intelligence experts to Nigeria to advise Mr Jonathan’s Government.

The Americans have deployed a drone in Chad to do surveillance over the forest where the girls are thought to be held.

China has offered the use of its satellites. France, Canada and Israel have also offered help.

Last week, Mr Jonathan said his Government would be waging a “total war on terrorism”.

However, a high-level Australian source said Nigeria’s response so far had not been “coherent”.

One potential problem identified by the Nigerians is that the schoolgirls may have been split up, complicating any rescue bid.

Australia’s special forces, the Special Air Service Regiment and the Commandos, have earned world renown for their skill in Afghanistan and Iraq. One source said they would be ideal for a mission against Boko Haram.