The heavily armed militants who kidnapped more than 270 Nigerian schoolgirls on April 14 profess allegiance to a fundamentalist version of Islam. But Boko Haram is nothing more than another heinous bunch of terrorist thugs.

So negotiating with those killers is an inherently risky proposition.

But Boko Haram has offered this week to set some of the girls free in exchange for the release of some of their incarcerated comrades. Nigerian officials, after initially rejecting that idea, appeared to soften their stance.

Regardless, Nigeria needs all of the foreign help it can get to find and free those girls.

President Barack Obama has rightly responded by sending U.S. military, intelligence and law-enforcement personnel to provide assistance in that urgent quest. A U.S. manned MC-12 surveillance aircraft reportedly has joined the search.

In the past four months Boko Haram has kidnapped young boys as well as young girls. It reportedly converts the males to child soldiers. It also has killed more than 1,500 people, often mutilating their bodies.

The brutal tactics of the group are reminiscent of those used by Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone, a pseudo-Marxist gang supported by Liberia's disgraced former president Charles Taylor to run illegal diamond mines.

Yet Boko Haram claims religious motives for its vile crimes.

"Boko" is derogatory Hausa slang for Western culture introduced in the 19th century when Nigeria was a British colony. "Haram" is Arabic, meaning forbidden by Islam.

While former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rightly condemned the kidnappings last week as an "act of terrorism," she had refused to call Boko Haram a terrorist organization during her 2009-13 tenure as our nation's top diplomat.

That extended a misguided policy, aimed at maximizing negotiation possibilities with Boko Haram, adhered to by the State Department during the George W. Bush administration.

Late last year, Secretary of State John Kerry finally and fairly branded Boko Haram as a terrorist organization.

Unfortunately, that belated acknowledgment didn't serve to forestall the mass kidnapping.

The Nigerian government of apparently misnamed President Goodluck Jonathan clearly has serious problems, and often seems overrun by corruption and chaos.

Nevertheless, the U.S. must work with that government to bring an end to this crisis. As President Obama told ABC News last week: "This may be the event that helps to mobilize the entire international community to finally do something against this horrendous organization that's perpetrated such a terrible crime."

That coordinated effort should serve as the beginning of the end for Boko Haram.