The Nigerian government said Tuesday it hopes to negotiate with Muslim extremists for the release of 200 kidnapped schoolgirls as U.S. aircraft were flying over remote forests to help spot the captives.
Minister of Special Duties Tanimu Turaki told the BBC that if Boko Haram was sincere, its leader Abubakar Shekau should send people he trusted to meet the standing committee on reconciliation. Shekau has threatened to sell the girls into slavery.
Mike Omeri, the director of the government's information agency, called the National Orientation Agency, said the government will "use whatever kind of action" it takes to free the girls. He also warned that a military operation, with foreign help, was possible.
Boko Haram, which believes girls should not be educated, said it will release the girls only if the Nigerian government releases jailed militants.
"At the moment, because all options are open, we are interacting with experts, military and intelligence experts from other parts of the world," Omeri said. "So these are part of the options that are available to us and many more."
The U.S. military is flying intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft over Nigeria in the search for the 276 girls who have been missing since April 15.
Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told USA TODAY that the intelligence from the flights is not being shared directly with the Nigerian government, but is being provided to the American officials advising in the country.
He said the data collection is sensitive and involves classified systems and the Pentagon is working on protocols to allow direct sharing with Nigeria.
Warren would not say if the flights were manned or unmanned. Both drones and manned aircraft are capable of the flights. He emphasized that the U.S. is not considering direct military action to rescue the girls.
The girls were taken from their school into the heavily wooded Sambisa Forest in northeast Nigeria that is the size of New England. They were both Christian and Muslim girls, and a recent video showed them all wearing full-length hijabs.
The United States has sent a team of almost 30 from the State Department, Department of Defense and FBI. The team includes security experts, 10 Defense Department planners and advisers who were already in Nigeria and four FBI officials with expertise in safe recovery and negotiations.
Boko Haram has engaged in a bloody campaign to impose Islamic law on Nigeria, killing more than 1,500 people this year in a series of bombings and massacres.