In 2012 Human Rights Watch published a scathing report criticizing the government for simultaneously cracking down on the northern Muslim population -- the fifth largest in the world -- with numerous accounts of the military attacking civilians and destroying their property en masse in the name of fighting Boko Haram, while not actually making the area safer.
Prior to the abduction of the girls, the military’s actions “made it easier for Boko Haram to find sympathizers within the population,” says Sarah Margon of Human Rights Watch. “Nigeria isn’t quite sure how to handle Boko Haram.”
Today U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said those concerns "haven't change" and defended that State Department's timing.
"Designating an organization as a foreign terrorist organization is just one tool," she said. "Obviously, the rise of Boko Haram, their increasing acts of terrorism around Africa, is something that we've been watching closely. It's something that Secretary Clinton and her team were watching closely. Obviously, with the tragic events with the kidnapping of the Nigerian girls, the world is now watching this, including many across the United States, more closely."
Still, leveraging more of the U.S. military's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets in West Africa years ago might have helped identify more of Boko Haram's top leaders, despite the decentralized structure of a group which receives funding and some training from Algeria-based al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
"We only have the names of a few in Boko Haram's leadership," Carson said.
Despite the policy debate, the issue has turned political this week, with Republicans saying Thursday that potential 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton should have acted against Boko Haram earlier than 2012.
"It's sad that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused calls to designate al Qaeda-linked Boko Haram as a terrorist organization, " said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. "A proactive decision by Clinton would have given our government additional tools in combatting a terror organization that has abducted hundreds of innocent girls in Nigeria."
Today the Obama administration called for additional United Nations sanctions against Boko Haram, a senior administration official told ABC News.