Qatar: Conciliators, Regional Superpower, or Simply Another Wealthy Arab Nation?

sheikh tamim bin hamad al-thani amir of qatar e-u. high representative for foreign and security policy and Vice president of the european commission catherine ashton in doha, qatar

sheikh tamim bin hamad al-thani amir of qatar e-u. high representative for foreign and security policy and Vice president of the european commission catherine ashton in doha, qatar

DOHA, Qatar - An internationally renowned nation which was once known only for its pearl-fishing has become a major global player. Pumping out nearly 2.3 millions of barrels of natural gas a day which gets shipped around the globe as LNG, it is in the top 25 producers of oil and gas. (Source: Forbes) 

Unfortunately, it is also currently at the center of the FIFA scandal that is reverberating around the world, yet this is not the topic of discussion here.

In the 1940s the nascent country’s oil and gas industry was developed by Western nations as they continued to implement colonization strategies that included primary control of natural resources. This all changed in the 1990s when Qatar exercised greater control of the profits from its oil and gas industry thus transforming it into one of richest countries in the Emirates.

The government recognizes that shifting from a major global supplier of oil and gas will be a long and somewhat protracted process. But, the proactive open-market policies being instituted by the government is helping Qatar to become both a major financial hub in additional to a luxury tourist destination. At the start of 2015, Qatar’s economy was ranked a score of 70.8 according to the data tracked, which means that it is the 32nd most investor friendly economies in the world. With this type of recognition comes the ability to not only exert influence, but also encourages criticism as in the case of allegations of impropriety with the award to host the 2022 World Cup soccer games to Qatar.

Owing to economic diversification, investors from different parts of the world have taken a keen interest in doing business with the country as well as establishing corporate headquarters. The ramping up of foreign investments in infrastructure, finance and banking, products and services, etc. being delivered by these foreign corporations prognosticates some excellent job opportunities in Qatar, and is one of the main reasons that it was chosen as a host country for the games.

Qatar is often regarded as a study in contradictions and is known to be significantly more liberal than many of its neighbors. Apart from Saudi Arabia, the state of Qatar is the only Middle Eastern nation to adopt Wahhabism as its official state religion. The religious demographics in Qatar seem to support both the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and the militant Hamas movement, and the internecine conflict between the two is quite complex and sometimes terrifying. At the moment the ‘tug of war’ raging inside the Muslim world consists of two sides. The Salafi jihadis―or hardcore Wahhabis, who are financed and supported by Saudi Arabia versus the Muslim Brotherhood who are supported by Qatar on the other.

For years Qatar has been supporting and propagating the Muslim Brotherhood's agenda in different parts of the Middle East and North Africa through its Al Jazeera television network. Though this may seem partisan at first glance, history reveals a more nuanced story, one in which Qatar has maintained a very diplomatic approach towards an increasingly global religious dilemma. Qatar's ability to act as arbiter and play the role of conciliator was demonstrated in its role in achieving the 2008 ceasefire in Lebanon according to the online news site Asharq Al-Awsat.

Unfortunately, the world’s eyes are trained upon Syria and the tragedies that are occurring within its borders, and though Qataris are working behind the political scene to help support Syrians to establish a post-Bashar Hafez al-Assad governance, these efforts toward stabilization are not obviously visible. As with much that occurs in negotiations, what is seen in the public eye is rarely what occurs behind the scenes, and in this context Qatar always positions itself to ensure that its interests are preserved. One of the main motives and interest in facilitating peace in Syria is the hope that a more moderate form of Islam will prevail in a new Syria, and if successful, may help to garner a bigger seat at the table of powerful Arab nations.

The initiatives taken thus far reflect Qatar’s desire to continue in its role as conciliator in the global economic and religious amphitheater. Qatar hopes that by making greater strides with this goal through an open job market, flexibility in accepting the customs of foreigners within limits of decorum, and negotiating for an air of tolerance, balance, and acceptance will ultimately serve to change external perceptions. From the highest levels of government to the ordinary Qataris, there exists a desire to be counted amongst the most developed and advanced countries in the world, and thus the nation hopes to break the stigma of mistrust and judgment that plagues almost every Muslim nation today.

Middle East Correspondent:  @Vinita Tiwari

Despite Presidential Legacy Goals, Obama Agrees to Slow Afghanistan Troop Drawdown

U.S. Soldier in Afghanistan, Courtesy of the U.S. Army

U.S. Soldier in Afghanistan, Courtesy of the U.S. Army

AFGHANISTAN - In March, President Obama announced that troop levels in Afghanistan would not be reduced, despite the president's pledge to decrease the number by half. In the following weeks a flood of diplomatic engagements, press conferences and speculation by world leaders unraveled about what the bilateral relationship will look like in the coming months and years.

What has become clear is an already tense and fragile relationship has become increasingly volatile with the rise of ISIS, coupled with the lessons learned from Iraq’s draw downs. In Iraq, many think we withdrew too quickly, leaving the vulnerable Iraqi troops to fend for themselves against ISIS, who advanced quickly against the inexperienced resistance.

Despite these factors, amplified lobbying efforts by President Ashraf Ghani certainly doesn't bode well for Obama’s plan to get half of the troops remaining in Afghanistan out by the end of 2015. With these pressures accumulating for months, Obama has officially decided to slow his planned troop draw down by scratching the 50% reduction in troops he was planning for the end of 2015. Now, the plan is to keep 10,000 troops in Afghanistan through the end of 2015, when the timeline will be further evaluated and structured for 2016.

Regardless of this major decision, Obama is unyielding on his benchmark goal of ending the war in Afghanistan before his Presidency comes to an end. Therefore, while there may be 10,000 troops in Afghanistan in December, he plans to have only a few hundred troops at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul left in the country by the end of 2016. The pace of this drawdown, though, is yet to be situated.

No doubt the White House, Pentagon, CIA and others are weighing the pros and cons versus staying longer to establish peace and stability, a strong Afghan military, and a more robust response to ISIS advances – but there is the eternal reminder that this is already America’s longest war and it cannot drag on forever. And while Obama may be dogged about having troops out by the end of 2016, he may be outweighed by recommendations from senior advisers and officials in these agencies who are pushing for Americans to stay longer and lock in the progress made over the last 13-years. It remains to be seen who will win this fight.

Africa Correspondent: @JessamyNichols
LinkedIn: Jessamy Nichols

To Spite Obama Health Insurance Companies and Pharmaceuticals Choose to Kill Citizens

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – At midnight on December 31st the world retired 2014 to make way for 2015. For many it marked a night of festivities, parties, and insouciance. For others, like me, it was the day which marked the resetting of health insurance premiums, deductibles, and prescription coverages which would inevitably result in increased costs.

In the days prior, I frantically traveled to doctor's offices and pharmacies to get all of our prescriptions refilled before January 1st. In one instance, my son's pediatrician wouldn't authorize refills for his asthma medications without an appointment. Thankfully we were able to be seen by him on an emergency basis on the morning of December 31st. It was with grateful relief that he wrote all of the prescriptions needed and that I was able to get them filled before the pharmacy closed.

Unfortunately the insurance company would not authorize the refill of one of my son's most expensive medications until after the new year. One might think, with the figures I am about to report, that the medications to which I am referring are 'Brand Named' versus 'Generic.' However, this is not the case. In 2014, before I met my plan deductible, the generic version of one of his medications was $250 for a 30-day supply, while the cost for the brand name was $491. After I met my annual deductible, the costs of this medicine was reduced significantly to $50 for a 30-day supply of the generic which was a great costs savings for our household.

This reduction from my perspective directly correlated with the enactment of The Affordable Care Act (ACA) which was passed in 2010. The ACA, also known as 'Obamacare' made health coverage mandatory and also provided the means for the uninsured to purchase affordable insurance through exchanges which would help regulate the market prices. For me it was a blessing because it reduced my premiums and enabled me to purchase 'individual/self-pay' insurance without having to pay exorbitant premium fees because of 'preexisting' condition as defined by insurance companies such as Asthma, Cancer, Heart Disease, etc.

The cost to maintain this insurance is expensive, but compared to what I paid for COBRA Continuation Health Coverage in 2012, the 33 percent reduction in premium costs was a welcomed relief. I went from paying $1,660 per month to just over $550 per month for better coverage. The only catch was that my prescription costs increased significantly and thus the net/net was actually more like a 20 percent reduction in costs once this was factored in. However, providing the best healthcare for my son was non-negotiable and often meant that bills remain unpaid, and in some instances I didn't refill my medication or go to see the doctor when I needed.

Then, on November 14, 2014, The New York Times reported that "The Obama administration on Friday unveiled data showing that many Americans with health insurance bought under the Affordable Care Act could face substantial price increases next year — in some cases as much as 20 percent — unless they switch plans." Proponents of ACA asserted that this demonstrated that the legislation was working while Republican opponents pointed to these increases as proof that it is not.

As a parent and someone who is directly impacted by the ACA, I can categorically state that without it neither my son nor I would have insurance coverage. I couldn't have afforded to pay $3,000 a month in premiums and prescription costs because of 'preexisting conditions.' From my perspective the 2015 rate increases coupled with inflation in costs for generic medicines is a ploy devised by the insurance companies and pharmaceuticals to incite an already cash strapped American consumer to work against their own best interest. The premise that healthcare for average Americans was better prior to the passing of the ACA is ludicrous.

Me and millions of other Americans remember the heartache and pain of having to watch one's child suffer because an insurance company informed you that your child's healthcare costs would no longer be covered because of an "annual or lifetime" dollar limit. Other parents were faced with the necessity of mortgaging their homes, working several jobs, and making other sacrifices so that they could pay for expensive cancer or heart disease medicines. We all thought these days were behind us, but it turns out that 'we' have become collateral damage in what has been advertised as a war between the Republicans and President Obama.

In reality it is about greed. Providing access to affordable healthcare and prescriptions is not a luxury, it is a need. Parents like me are not 'lazy ne'er-do-wells' seeking to sponge off of the government. We are hard-working individuals who make difficult choices so that our children may live and grow up to be healthy contributors to society. The ACA provided us with hope for such a future, but insurance companies and pharmaceuticals have found a new way to game the system.

Anecdotally, it appears that since insurance companies are forced to insure people who may cost them money, they will make insurance available but the quality of that service is dependent on one's ability to pay for it. Thus, the better the insurance the greater the costs. However, this doesn't help them to recoup their losses (i.e. executives can't buy a new yacht, jet, exotic car, or mansion), so they turn to the pharmaceutical companies to further pressure consumers into lobbying for the dissolution of Obamacare.

When the media first began to report that generic medicine prices would increase substantially I worried but not much. Then, The Chicago Tribune reported on the rising cost of generic drug prices, and I became concerned but couldn't imagine an increase greater than a few percentage points. Then on January 3rd when I asked the pharmacists to fill the one prescription remaining from 2014, I was shocked to learn that the price increased from $50 for a 30-day supply to $391 for a 30-day supply. That was for GENERIC not brand name! I contacted my insurance company and was given a clearly ridiculous story that the cost of manufacturing the drug had increased.

Asthma can be a life-threatening condition and not taking his medication for a few days though not recommended, is not going to kill him. The same cannot be said of parents who have children with a terminal illness like cancer, in which treatment consists of multiple medications and a single prescription can cost upwards of $1,500 per month. Thus, the title of this article seeks not only to grab your attention, but also to help people understand that by taking away our ability to purchase life-saving medicine so that a pharmaceutical company can increase it's profit margin is immoral, reprehensible, and absolutely inhuman; and like it or not the choice to drastically increase the cost of generic drugs is tantamount to 'killing citizens.'

Follow Nahmias Cipher Report on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Editor-in-Chief: @ayannanahmias

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Racism Remains in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Apartheid, Photo by UN Photo
Apartheid, Photo by UN Photo

SOUTH AFRICA - The World Hates me Because I am Black... Thus I will Love the World Because I am Black.

I will always remember this moment: my mom and little brother coming into the house with mail. She hands me a large envelope with the biggest smile. I quickly glance to see Howard University in big, bold, blue font with 'CONGRATULATIONS' on the bottom.

I didn't know at the time that I would be attending a premier HBCU and one of the leading research institutions in the world. My reality soon became engulfed in Black pride, Black beauty, and Black history. Professors continuously remind the student body of the academic, technological, and cultural contributions by African people to the global network. Because of my experience at Howard University, I learned to appreciate my skin color.

I am currently studying abroad at the University of Stellenbosch in Stellenbosch, South Africa. The town is racially and economically segregated. Walking on one side of Eikstad Mall, a shopping centre, I mainly see students, the white middle class, and employees. However, the other side of the mall reveals a different story. Blacks and Coloureds fill the area while White tourists enthusiastically take pictures. The university itself is notoriously known as a racist university because of its history as an Afrikaans-only school. Even the architect of Apartheid taught at this university. So as a young Black woman, I am defying the slowly dying Apartheid-schema:

WHITE = GOOD & SUPERIORITY; BLACK = BAD & INFERIORITY

Stares continuously confront me as I walk through the streets of Stellenbosch. They range from genuine curiosity to a loaded question of “why are you here?” However, I must mention that the stares vary by the perpetrator's color (I am using color to make a claim and demonstrate my observations; I am not aiming to generalize nor to negatively portray South Africa and its people). White people look with curiosity, fascination, objectification, lust, and a complex, deep-seated hatred and contempt. Coloureds glare at me as if I remind them of a Black perpetrator in their past (Blacks and Coloureds do not have an amicable relationship mostly due to the systematic marginalization of Coloured placed slightly above Blacks - similar to the history and relationship between Blacks and Latinos in America). Black Afrikans stare at me with … well... I would argue curiosity, disgust, and confusion.

Does my natural Afro, American accent, and African-Native-American-European mixed features evoke a 'stop-and-stare' reaction in a non-American country?

Of course.

That would definitely be the acceptable explanation if these stares were solely genuine curiosity.

But they are not.

The actual is not the main issue. I do not favor staring because of my experiences in childhood. Staring is a natural phenomenon that will never disappear; I accept that. The main issue is what lies behind the staring that is not spoken, but clear: a covert global campaign promoting Black inferiority.

Everywhere I turn I see Black women destroying their natural hair with non-stop weaves, wigs, and braids. The Afrikan cultural traditions of decorating one's head with flattering hair-dos and wearing clothes that demonstrates one's roots and status became replaced with conflicting European standards of beauty. Like diamonds in the rough, I see Black people retain their heritage through their language, dancing, and the undying dedication towards Ubuntu. But this is overshadowed in Stellenbosch. Even if I travelled to Afrikan places that fought against the damaging effects of colonialism; like a mouse, it silently scurries in and conveniently leaves droppings as a reminder of its presence.

Ultimately, I travelled from an HBCU bubble, Black pride island back into the real world. A world that constantly reminds me that it loathes my skin color and anything associated to it. At every restaurant, I am confronted with “you don't belong here and should never belong here.” At a club, I am asked for extra identification. At the bar, several customers are served before me. In stores, I am monitored but not helped. From tourists, I am greeted with a traditional Afrikan language. To others, I am worthless until my American origin graces their ears. These experiences have truly influenced my study abroad journey. However, there is one that moves my soul to tears: the contempt for Black Americans from Black Afrikans.

Howard reminds me that I have brothers and sisters in Afrika and in the Afrikan diaspora, yet I believe the feeling is not mutual. A Black-American girl from Boston told me that in her conversation with some Afrikans, she mentioned that she identifies herself as African-American. To her surprise, she was met with laughter and a firm “you are not Afrikan.” We can always debate on 'what is Afrikan,' but the disregard of our historical bond disturbs me. Clearly the definitions of Afrikan, Black, isiXhosa vs. isiZulu, Zimbabwean vs. South African are significant to most. Yet, all hope is surely not lost.

One of my best days spent in South Africa was at Mzolis in Gugulethu, a township. My flatmates, Christine and Alyssa, and I were chilling in a lounge with Afrikan men watching a soccer game . Our passionate, young 'tour guide' stopped all conversations to remind us that our ancestors were taken from Africa for the slave trade; however, everyone in that room are brothers and sisters. The men instantly agreed and jokingly identified our African origins based off our physical appearances, mannerisms, and speech. Apparently, I am undeniably South African, but it is a debate between Xhosa and Zulu origins.

In coming to South Africa, I was reminded of the world's hatred for Blackness. But I also experience the community's love for me. South Africa presents me the challenge to love my existence. It shows me the remarkable diversity of Africa and Africans. As I prepare to return to America and Howard University, I shall remember this:

The world hates me because I am Black, Thus, I will love the world because I am Black, I love the world because it is Black, And that will never change.

Follow Chrycka on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Poet & Literary Critic: @chrycka_harper

This post is dedicated to my Black sister, Christine Smith, that shared the experiences described in this post in our semester spent in South Africa.

Will Scotland Choose Independence?

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GLASGOW, Scotland -- The Scottish referendum on independence will take place 18 September 2014. If 40% of the population in Scotland vote in favor of separation, Scotland will be an autonomous nation once again, following 300 years of political fusion with Great Britain.

The movement is spearheaded by the opposing 'Yes Scotland' and 'Better Together' campaigns, which advocate Scottish independence and United Kingdom solidarity, respectively. The First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond is perhaps the most visible spokesman for the 'Yes Scotland' outfit. Allistair Darling is a longstanding member of the British parliament and heads the Better Together movement.

According to the 'Yes Scotland' and 'Better Together' factions, social problems in Scotland need to be addressed. But the two camps are at odds over whether these changes can take place with London in the driver's seat. According to Alex Salmond, the power dynamic between the UK and Scotland are among the most unequal in Europe.

Poverty, drug abuse and suicide affect Scots at much-higher rates than their British or Irish neighbors. Recent studies conducted throughout the Highlands find that Scottish men have a suicide rate 73% higher than males throughout the rest of the UK. The same study found that female Scots committed suicide at twice the rate of women throughout the Kingdom.

Wealth inequality has fluctuated over the past decade but remains a serious problem in Scotland. Throughout the population, one in five children are living below the poverty line. A study published by Child Poverty Action Group finds that in many Scottish communities, one in three children are currently impoverished. The 'Yes Scotland' campaign believes that with increased autonomy, Scots will be able to address problems in their communities, without relying on representatives in Westminster as middlemen.

The agriculture industry in Scotland is particularly invested in the outcome of September's referendum. Currently, Scottish farmers receive subsidies through the European Union. The EU allocates a lump sum to the UK, and stipends are generated to English and Scottish farmers from these funds.

Pro-independence farming coalitions believe that farmers in Scotland are undervalued in these calculations. They argue that an independent Scotland would receive greater allowances from the EU. Opponents of Scottish independence claim just the opposite, stating that the UK has greater lobbying power in the EU debates, and Scottish famers are wrong to think they could collect larger subsidies as a small, independent nation.

One of the largest controversies in the debate over Scotland's future is centered in massive oil reserves located in UK waters, off Scotland's coast. Alex Salmond has claimed that £1.5 trillion in natural gas deposits lie within Scotland's jurisdiction, but this figure is largely disputed. The veracity of the estimate is unclear, and both sides have much at stake with regards to the amount and ownership of the deep sea oil in question.

Scots are still widely divided on the issue of independence, but the international community is not so unsure. In recent weeks, President Barack Obama has come forward in support of UK solidarity.

In September Scotland will make its voice heard. Preliminary polls show that Scots are within reach of the votes required to pass the referendum. If Scotland splits from the UK, the dispute over Scottish identity will only intensify. Arguments over currency, citizenship and the economy are guaranteed to draw conflicting viewpoints between officials.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Editor: @MAndrewRansom

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1/3 Native Women Are Raped, Non-Indian Attackers Still Immune to Prosecution

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Michael Ransom, Contributing EditorLast Modified: 15:25 p.m. DST, 19 May 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C. - On American Indian reservations, Native women's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are seriously threatened. Study after study confirm the appalling frequency at which Indigenous women are raped, sexually assaulted and battered. Throughout Indian country, more than one-third of women will be raped during their lifetime.

Today, it is no secret that these women stand a greater chance of being assaulted than living unscathed. The US Department of Justice found that 61% of American Indian women have been subjected to some form of physical assault. Because of the historic and ongoing inaction of the federal government, these women experience a crapshoot application of security and justice.

More disturbing is the role that American citizens and officials play--and don't play--in the violence. Over 70% of assailants are not tribal members, but rather American nationals who entered reservations for a variety of reasons. Some come to hunt. Other perpetrators live with woman who they abuse. And many simply cross the street into neighboring Indian country. [When tribal lands were downsized by the federal government, the borderlines of reservations were manipulated.]

This territorial patchwork could be acceptable, if tribal law applied to non-Natives who travel into reservation grounds. But, reservations are considered dependent nations according to US policy, and therefore cannot arrest, try or incarcerate non-Natives. Heinous crimes like rape are therefore defacto permissible, and a violent or deranged man can assault a women in Indian country with legal immunity.

According to the Supreme Court decision in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, Federal prosecutors have jurisdiction in reservation regions. This 1978 ruling set a dangerous precedent of nonexistent federal law enforcement, and fundamentally compromised tribal attempts to self-govern and protect members. In 2011, the Justice Department put a plan in motion to place Assistant Attorneys in prosecution capacities within reservations, and a task force to prioritize the safety of women and children.

Many see these measures as too little, and certainly decades late. Indian country largely remains a lawless area, and not because American Indians want it that way. Before 2010, councils were unable to sentence Indian convicts to less than one year of jail time. Recently enacted, the Tribal Law and Order Act now allows tribal courts to incarcerate members for up to three years. Unfortunately, that is the limit, even for the most deplorable crimes.

The roadblocks to prosecution are embedded in the established legislation, but progressive action is beginning to take shape. President Barack Obama signed the Violence Against Women Act in early 2013. This legislation will help protect domestic violence committed by non-Indian husbands, but fails to address non-Indian attackers that are outsiders in the community. When seven of every ten attackers are protected from prosecution, the law is far from impressive. Plus, it is only in a trial phase now in three reservations.

Conservative members of Congress decreased provisions that would punish non-Indian criminals, concerned that non-Native suspects would not receive far trial, and may be crucified for the historic crimes against the First People of the continent. Perhaps the fears of these lawmakers are just projection; statistics clearly show that women are victimized by the current legal system, not men. Republicans would be hard-pressed to find instances where White men have been wronged by the intersection of American and Native law codes.

The United States continually plays Big Brother to tribal officials. By butting into supposed tribal authority, Washington limits the power of the Native justice system as to render it ineffective. Plainly, reservations do not want a weak police force and court system, but many in the federal government would rather risk women's well-being than see bolstered Indigenous agency of any kind.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Editor: @MAndrewRansom

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U.S. to Send Aid for Safe Return of Kidnapped Nigerian Schoolgirls

Boko Haram Kidnapped Nigerian School Girls, Photo by Gullpress

Boko Haram Kidnapped Nigerian School Girls, Photo by Gullpress

NIGERIA - Three weeks ago, the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram kidnapped nearly 300 girls from the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School in Borno State as they were about to sit for their final exams.

Boko Haram, which translates to "Western education is sinful," then set the school on fire. Since then, 53 girls have managed to escape -- though Tuesday, 6 May 2014, there was another kidnapping of 8-girls from the nearby village of Warabe.

Thus far the search for the missing girls has primarily been conducted by residents of Borno, who have been braving the dangerous Sambisa Forest as well as potentially fatal encounters with Boko Haram, all with little on-ground military support.

The military says it is using aerial surveillance to look for the girls. However, many suspect that the government is afraid to engage in a conflict with Boko Haram which is heavily armed.

After three weeks of little or no support from the Nigerian government, as well as the lack of information on the exact location and status of the kidnapped girls, citizens have begun to lose confidence in authority.

However, the girls have international support: the British government expressed concern, the UN condemned the kidnappings as acts against humanity, protests are happening worldwide, awareness has gone viral with the hashtag "#bringbackourgirls," and Nigeria has recently accepted help from the US military.

While the girls were originally kept nearby, there is belief that some have been transported to neighboring countries.  If the girls have been split up into several groups, rescue efforts could potentially take years.

Boko Haram plans to sell the girls. Additionally, some may be kept as human shields to prevent rescuers from bombing the camps they're kept at, and others may be ransomed back to their parents.

U.S. President Barack Obama has said that finding the girls will be a top priority.