Can U.S. do anything to stop extremists from selling Nigerian girls to fund terror?

Martha Raddatz, Richard Coolidge & Jordyn Phelps
Power Players

On the Radar

What started as the kidnapping of nearly 300 girls from a boarding school in remote Nigeria has turned into an international rallying cry to rescue the girls nearly a month after their disappearance.

The United States and other members of the international community have now sent aid and military assistance to Nigeria to help in the search, but a former commander of the United States’ military operations in Africa said that these newest efforts likely aren’t enough to save all the girls.

“I think the one thing that's almost certain is the young girls are no longer together,” Retired Gen. Carter Ham told “On the Radar.” “They've almost certainly are dispersed in small groups or even individuals. And my guess is, given the porous nature of these borders, that many of them are probably already outside of Nigeria, thereby complicating the search for them.”

“But I don't think we should give up hope,” he later added. “What's the likelihood that all of the girls will be rescued? It is pretty remote. But if you get one, that's one. And if you get more than that, then that's good.”

The girls were kidnapped by members of an Islamic extremist group known as Boko Haram, which translates to “western education is sinful.” Boko Haram began as an Islamic group calling for Sharia law to govern the Nigeria’s Muslim population and took a turn toward violence in recent years, Ham said.

“They didn't start out as a violent group, but increasingly turned violent, particularly in 2009, when the first recent leader of Boko Haram was killed while in government custody,” Ham said, explaining that Boko Haram claims the government killed the leader – a claim the government disputes.

The group does not have a direct affiliation with al Qaeda currently, Ham said, but has shown an “aspirational” interest in attaining affilation and has already collaborated with other terrorist groups such as al Shabab.

Boko Haram has threatened to sell the 276 girls into slavery - a proposition which Ham said has both “money-making” and “ideological” motivations.

“Human trafficking is all kinds of all forms of illicit trafficking are one of the major sources of income for terrorists groups and other extremist groups across Africa,” Ham said. “Most of their money comes from illicit trafficking, whether it's consumer goods, gas, oil, cigarettes, whether it's drugs, or whether it's humans.”

To hear specifics on how Ham says the United States can best aid in the search for the missing Nigerian school girls, check out this episode of “On the Radar.”

ABC News’ Brian Hartman, Dana Hughes, Luis Martinez, Alexandra Dukakis, Tom Thornton, Hank Disselkamp, and Bob Bramson contributed to this episode.