Commentary: Obama Sending Military to Africa Is a Good Step Forward

Finally, a fitting use of America's armed forces.

Posted: 05/23/2014 11:50 AM EDT

The Obama administration’s decision to deploy 80 American military personnel to help locate the more than 275 girls abducted in Nigeria is a sensible decision in how to deploy armed forces in an internationally sensitive and significant situation.

The administration has made clear that the military personnel will assist with surveillance and intelligence as well as provide aircraft to engage in missions over northern Nigeria. The military support, the president says, will remain in Chad until that country says it no longer wishes to host the American support.

Given the worldwide outrage created by the kidnapping of the schoolgirls, the response of the United States so far is a welcomed development. Even so, it has drawn some criticism from skeptics in Washington who have questioned why sending American military personnel is in the interest of the United States. Why, they ask, should American defense personnel be sent to far-off Africa to deal with what is essentially an internal Nigerian matter?

For one thing, Nigeria is now recognized as Africa’s largest economy and the actions of terrorist groups there threaten to undermine the stability of one of America’s most important partners on the continent. The actions of Boko Haram are no longer back-page news, reflecting events confined to remote regions of Nigeria. They are taking place with chilling frequency now, moving even to Abuja, the country’s capital. They are a poison that could bring about widespread destabilization of the entire West African region.

What’s more, the world of surveillance in 2014 is operating on a whole new landscape than in the era when American advisers and military personnel were first sent into Vietnam or other, more recent conflicts. As the world saw during the killing of Osama bin Laden, this is a highly sophisticated technological scenario where the United States has developed some clear expertise. It is expertise that is sorely needed in this heartbreaking tragedy of young girls, torn away from their families and their schools.

Lastly, Nigeria’s government has appeared remarkably ill-equipped, outmaneuvered and reticent to deal with this crisis in a compelling and head-on manner. That has sparked an outburst of protests in that country by people who complain that President Goodluck Jonathan's response to the crisis has been anything but reassuring.

President Jonathan has so far failed to meet with the parents of some of the kidnapped girls, sending instead a spokesman who gave them a lecture, a move widely seen as offering nothing short of stark insensitivity. And so, if sending fewer than 100 American military personnel will in any way help to solve this crisis, it is a good use of the acumen and the expertise of the United States armed forces.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan

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