Congressman: We can put Boko Haram on the run, like Joseph Kony

Last Updated May 21, 2014 3:45 PM EDT

After the nation in 2012 rallied around the cause to stop Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, Congress and President Obama worked together to send U.S. troops to Central Africa to hunt Kony down. Now, one of the congressmen behind that effort is pushing for the U.S. to provide more assistance to stop Boko Haram, the Nigerian militant group responsible for kidnapping nearly 300 schoolgirls and torching schools across Nigeria.

Kony has yet to be brought to justice, but his authority has faded and he recently handed over the reins to the Lord's Resistance Army to his son.

"He is now on the run," Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Wednesday. Had the U.S. not provided assistance in the efforts to track him down, "he would have continued to pillage, he would have continued as a marauder, to take child soldiers and young concubines -- we put an end to that."

Similarly, he said, the U.S. should help stop Boko Haram. "We have the capability to assist putting an end to that, and we should do so."

Royce was joined at a press conference by the top Democrat on his committee, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and 15-year-old Deborah Peter, the first female survivor of a Boko Haram attack to visit Washington.

Peter, who arrived in the U.S. about 10 months ago and now attends school in Grundy, Va., described how Boko Haram killed her father and her brother in 2011 and burned down their Christian church.

boko haram

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., watch as Deborah Peter holds up a sign before a hearing on Capitol Hill May 21, 2014 in Washington, D.C. Peter, who now lives in the United States, spoke about the killing of her family by members of the Boko Haram in Nigeria in 2011.

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
"I want the [Nigerian] government to know how much Nigeria is in our prayers," she said. "I want them to send armies to find the girls, or maybe they should help them -- for the people who lost their families, to come to school here like me."

Just as Joseph Kony's infamy grew over social media, lawmakers and others have tried to exploit social media -- particularly with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls -- to bring attention to Boko Haram.

Peter on Wednesday held up a piece of paper with the slogan #BringBackMySisters.

Tuesday, the House passed a resolution that presses for more aggressive action from the administration in Nigeria.

Earlier this month, President Obama said the United States would do everything it can to help find the kidnapped girls. White House spokesman Jay Carney last week said the U.S. has an interdisciplinary team with representatives from the State Department, the Department of Defense, the FBI and others is up and running at the U.S. embassy in Nigeria. The team is helping to support the Nigerian government by providing military and law enforcement assistance as well as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support. The U.S. is also working closely with international partners, including the UK and France, and pressing for additional multilateral action through the U.N. Security Council via sanctions on Boko Haram.

"They are digging in on the search and coordinating closely with the Nigerian government, and we obviously want to do whatever we can to assist that effort," Carney said.

Royce and Engel acknowledged concerns about human rights abuses and corruption within the Nigerian military but said it was still worth assisting them in this effort.

"We have had concerns about the Nigerian military for quite some time," Engel said. "They should not deter us from cooperating to bring back those girls."

Update: White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday afternoon that approximately 80 U.S. Armed Forces personnel have deployed to Chad as part of the U.S. efforts to locate and support the safe return of the kidnapped schoolgirls. These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area. The force will remain in Chad until its support in resolving the kidnapping situation is no longer required.

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