Jim White

Rauf Exploited One Last Time, Now Latest Drone Victim

On January 30, I noted how the varied history of Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim had seen him on many different sides of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. His history depends on whoever is describing it, but it is clear he spent time at Guantanamo, where leaked documents said that he was “substantially exploited“. He was released from Guantanamo and held for at least some time in Afghanistan’s notorious Pul-e-Charkhi prison. Many reports put him serving on the Quetta Shura of the Afghan Taliban at a later point and getting quite close to Mullah Omar. Most recently, he was said to be an active recruiter for the Islamic State and perhaps even serving as the IS governor of the region.

Multiple reports today state that Rauf has been killed by a US drone strike in Afghanistan. From the Reuters report:

A missile-firing drone killed six people in Afghanistan on Monday including a veteran militant believed to have defected to Islamic State (IS) from the Taliban, Afghan officials said.

The senior militant, former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mullah Abdul Rauf, was killed in the violence-plagued southern province of Helmand, officials there said.

Police chief Nabi Jan Mullahkhel said Rauf was travelling in a car when the drone attacked. The other casualties included his brother-in-law and four Pakistanis, Mullahkhel said.

More details from the area:

Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), said in a statement Rauf was in charge of IS in southwestern Afghanistan and he was killed just after mid-day in “a successful military operation”.

Helmand’s deputy governor, Mohammad Jan Rasulyar, said Rauf’s membership of IS could not be confirmed but his associates were dressed in black outfits often worn by IS members.

“It is too early to confirm that he was Daish but his people were wearing the same clothes and mask,” Rasulyar said, referring to IS.

It is hardly surprising that the CNN account of his death would open with the recidivist angle:

He was a Taliban commander captured by the United States and held at Guantanamo Bay. But he was let go and returned to Afghanistan. Mullah Abdul Rauf went on to become a recruiter for ISIS in Afghanistan.

He was killed in a drone strike Monday, two officials told CNN.

And, as with seemingly all stories of this type at the early stages, the possibility that Rauf escaped has been presented. Khaama Press relays the same reports of Rauf’s death, but adds this to their story:

However, Pacha Gul Bakhtyar, Security Officer of Helmand Province had told Khaama Press earlier in the afternoon that Mullah Abdul Rawouf Khadim sustained serious injuries while four of his fighters were killed in the attack.

He said that Mullah Abdul Rawouf Khadim was traveling along with a group of his people in a Saracha vehicle when their vehicle was targeted, leaving Khadim seriously wounded and four of his people killed.

He said that Mullah Abdul Rawouf has escaped in wounded conditions.

So, while Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security states outright that Rauf was in charge of IS recruiting for the region, the Ministry of the Interior was insisting as recently as Sunday that the presence of IS fighters in Afghanistan was nothing more than a publicity stunt:

Rejecting the infiltration of the Islamic State (IS) fighters to Afghanistan, the Ministry of Interior (MoI) has said the rumors about the sightings of theses fighters were nothing more than publicity.

MoI spokesman Sediq Sediqqi at a press conference on Sunday in Kabul said that the security agencies were aware of the movements of all enemies of the country.

He warned the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) would suppress all rebel groups whether they were operating under the name of IS or other brands.

As a final note, the case of Rauf and his constantly changing sides should be seen as the rule for areas where the US military has engaged in its misadventures rather than an exeception. Other stories in today’s news note disputes over Afghan police with ties to the Taliban and Iraqi militias operated by a member of Parliament attacking Iraqi citizens at the same time they pursue ISIS.

So, of course, the US should promptly arm troops in Ukraine, as well, so that we can have another region where US arms raise the stakes the rapid changing of sides in a conflict.

Brilliant New Iraq Strategy Unveiled: Promote Sunni-Shia Reconciliation

Once again, the brilliant leaders of the US military have shown a complete ignorance of both the centuries-long Sunni-Shia rift in Islam and more recent US failed efforts to deal with it.

Think back to those heady days in the fall of 2007, when the ass-kissing little chickenshit David Petraeus returned from Iraq to Washington to defend his vaunted Iraq surge and to convince Congress to keep up the effort (while also shoring up political support for the Bush Administration, a long tradition for Petraeus). Perhaps because of all the false furor stirred up over the inane “General Betrayus” ad, Congress and the American public gave Petraeus and the military a pass despite a report card from GAO showing that by meeting only 3 of 18 benchmarks (pdf), the surge was an utter failure. As that document and other materials of the day pointed out repeatedly, the aim of the surge was to provide space for political reconciliation.

That effort, of course, failed miserably. Despite a relative stretch of peace, the Iraqi government that the US proudly hailed turned out to be brutally repressive and sectarian. And when the Sunni-led Islamic State invaded, Iraq’s military that Petraeus proudly trained (several times!) melted away, leaving as the final line of defense the Shia militias that Iraq never disbanded. Those militias promptly set about committing atrocities.

And so what is to be done now? The geniuses at the Pentagon have decided that all we have to do is to mend the Sunni-Shia rift in Iraq:

The U.S.-led air war against Islamic State militants has frozen the immediate threat from that group, and now is the time for Iraq’s Shi’ite-dominated government to mend its rift with disenfranchised Sunnis, U.S. military officials said on Tuesday.

“Quite frankly, we need to see in Iraq political outreach that addresses the fact that some 20 million Sunnis are disenfranchised with their government,” Lieutenant General William Mayville told a hearing on global threats facing the United States.

Inexplicably, not only did the next speaker, with an “intelligence” affiliation, not laugh at Mayville, he agreed with him:

Mark Chandler, acting director for intelligence for the Joint Staff, agreed, saying “one of the things that really concerns me going forward is if the Shi’ite forces believe that they can control ISIL (Islamic State) without reconciliation with the Sunnis.”

Okay, maybe it is too much for me to expect these guys to know that the Sunni-Shia rift started in 632 and has ebbed and flowed in the intervening thirteen hundred and eighty-some years. But these guys really should be aware of the kerfuffle just seven and a half years ago. Even paying just a tiny bit of attention to what the military and the Bush Administration were saying in the fall of 2007 and then following the thread of what happened on the reconciliation front in the intervening years should show them that this idea has zero chance of success.

Pinning hopes for success in Iraq on reconciliation didn’t work in 2007. Simply calling for it again while changing no other parts of US policy for the region is doomed to the same outcome.

Where IS Abdul Rauf Khadim and Whose Side IS He On?

All of the ladies attending the ball
Are requested to gaze in the faces
Found on the dance cards

Please then remember
And don’t get too close to one special one
He will take your defenses and run

So we change partners
Time to change partners
You must change partners
Again

Lyrics by Stephen Stills

When last we left Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, only two short weeks ago, he had suddenly appeared on the scene in Afghanistan as a recruiter for ISIS. That was after he had spent time on the Taliban’s Quetta Shura as one of Mullah Omar’s top advisors. That was after he escaped from Afghanistan’s Pul-e-Charkhi prison. That was after he had been transferred to Pul-e-Charkhi from Guantanamo, where he was “substantially exploited“.

Today, Pakistan’s Express Tribune is reporting that the Mullah Omar of ISIS, none other than Abu Bakr Baghdadi himself, has named Rauf the head of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, which, in ISIS-speak, is now known as the Khorasan Province of the Islamic State. Khorasan also includes Pakistan and selected other surroundings according to ISIS.

That is a very interesting development, especially since earlier this week, there was a report that Rauf had been arrested by the Taliban. Here is Adam Weinstein, writing at Gawker:

The Taliban, bane of America’s post-9/11 Afghanistan operations, said Wednesday that they captured Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, a renegade insurgent and ex-Guantanamo detainee who was in Afghanistan recruiting for the Islamic State, the latest parry in a messy internecine conflict between violent Islamist regimes.

The independent Pajhwok news agency of Afghanistan reports that Khadim—who had previously been identified in the media as an ex-Taliban footsoldier who sought revenge against the U.S. after his detention in Gitmo—was arrested, along with 45 armed followers, after attempting to turn local militants against the Taliban and win their allegiance for ISIS’s attempts to build a global caliphate.

However, not everyone was convinced of that report. From Thomas Joscelyn, writing at Long War Journal, also on Wednesday, we have this:

Still, Khadim has been an effective commander and the Khorasan province is already active in southern Afghanistan. There have been skirmishes between Baghdadi’s followers and their rivals in the Taliban, which is clearly gunning for Khadim. One report says that the Taliban has captured Khadim and dozens of his followers, but that has not been confirmed.

Today’s announcement of Rauf as governor of Khorasan marked a rather rapid promotion for him, as a report by Joscelyn on Monday noted that Rauf had been named deputy governor.

Oh, and while you’re trying to sort out just whose side Rauf is on, or whose prison he is in this week, you can get even more confused about funding for ISIS and where it is coming from. Iran seems to be enjoying that particular tidbit.

Did Obama Order Total Information Shutdown on Afghanistan?

In a stunning and blatantly obvious move to try to hide its failed efforts in Afghanistan, the military suddenly decided back in October that they would classify any and all information on the capabilities of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) despite data having been provided to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) for the 24 quarterly reports that preceded the one dated October 30, 2014 (pdf). Initial digging on that classification decision appeared to put the classification decision in the hands of ISAF Joint Command. The head of ISAF Joint Command then broke his own classification of ANSF capability a few days later when he proclaimed that ANSF is a “hugely capable fighting force” in a news briefing.

The timing for this classification couldn’t have been worse. US forces were in the final stages of the handoff of Afghan security to ANSF and Barack Obama eventually relied on butchered semantics to proudly proclaim that the war was over, despite a residual fighting force to which he had secretly given expanded combat powers.

Today, though, the classification of ANSF capability last quarter looks less like an arbitrary move by the Commander of ISAF Joint Command and more like a total information shutdown on Afghanistan. Perhaps Lt. Gen. Anderson just got the call for a shutdown before everyone else. In the SIGAR quarterly report released today (pdf), we learn that the military now has classified “nearly every piece of data used by the inspector general to assess the Afghan security forces.” In an appendix to the report, SIGAR lists the more than 140 questions that the military previously responded to openly but now says the answers are classified. Here is a sampling that SIGAR provided in the email sent out releasing the report:

–The over 140 SIGAR questions that received classified or otherwise restricted responses are listed starting on page 211. Sample of questions:
–Please provide a broad definition of the terms “unavailable” and “present for duty.” (page 211)
–Total amount of funding that the United States has expended on Afghan National Army food from Afghan Security Forces Fund (ASFF) for the current year. (page 211)
–How has the $25 million authorized by Congress for women in the Afghan army been used? (page 212)
–Total amount of funding that the United States has expended on Afghan National Police salaries from ASFF for the current year. (page 212)
–Please provide details of DOD/NATO-funded contracts to provide literacy training to the ANSF, including: a. the cost of the contract(s) and estimated cost(s) to complete (page 213)
–Please confirm that the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force-Afghanistan (CJIATF-A) is dissolved. (page 215)
–Please offer an assessment of the anticorruption initiatives of Afghan Ministry of Defense and Afghan Ministry of Interior (page 215)

As the New York Times article linked above points out, the military also initially tried to classify the number of US forces present in Afghanistan and only relented on that point when it was pointed out that the number had already been released by the Obama Administration.

The “explanation” offered by the Commander of US troops in Afghanistan, General John F. Campbell, is far from satisfactory. Here is an excerpt from his letter to SIGAR explaining the sudden expansion of classification:

Campbell

Campbell then had the temerity to add later in his letter that he is “committed to maximum transparency in our operations”. Just wow. That sounds like Obama declaring himself the most transparent President ever, and then going on to rely on expanded classification coupled with unprecedented levels of prosecution of whistleblowers.

But instead of just looking like a move Obama would make, perhaps it did come at his behest. Not only is the military clamming up on virtually all information out of Afghanistan, it appears that the State Department is as well. From page 147 of SIGAR’s report:

Despite the requirement of Public Law 110-181 that federal agencies provide requested information or assistance to SIGAR, the State Department did not answer any of SIGAR’s questions on economic and social-development this quarter, and failed to respond to SIGAR’s attempts to follow up.

Had only one Federal agency, the Defense Department, suddenly shut down the flow of information, it would have been easy to believe that they were ones trying to hide their own failures. But now that a second agency, the State Department, has shut down information flow at the same time, and won’t even provide an explanation for their move, it seems clear to me that the order to shut down information flow had to come from above. With both the Defense Department and State Department going silent, could such an order have come down from anyone other than Obama himself? The failure that is our Afghanistan war has entered its fourteenth year, has spanned two presidents and is now being summarily swept under the rug by the Most Transparent Administration Ever®.

Postscript: For more evidence on just how failed the Afghanistan effort has been, recall that John Kerry’s brokered extra-constitutional National Unity Government was over three months late in finally announcing a full slate of 19 cabinet nominees. Sadly, the slate included poorly screened candidates and the Afghan Parliament yesterday rejected 10 of those nominees while voting to confirm only 9.

Shell Announces $11 Billion Petrochemical Plant for Iraq: What Could Go Wrong?

Today’s entry in the “What Could Go Wrong?” sweepstakes is quite a beauty, courtesy of Reuters:

Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) has signed a deal with Iraq worth $11 billion (7 billion pounds) to build a petrochemicals plant in the southern oil hub of Basra, Industry Minister Nasser al-Esawi said on Wednesday.

Esawi told a press conference in Baghdad the Nibras complex, which is expected to come on line within five to six years, would make Iraq the largest petrochemical producer in the Middle East.

“The Nibras complex will be one of the largest (foreign) investments (in Iraq) and the most important in the petrochemical sector in the Middle East,” Esawi said.

Proponents of the deal undoubtedly will point to the fact that Basra is in the far southeastern part of Iraq, far from the swathe of territory controlled by ISIS. Others will even point to the apparent defeat of ISIS in Kobane and how that might signal a turning of the tide in the battle against them. And yes, oil output in Iraq has been steadily rising since that little blip in 2003. As of the time of that linked report from the US Energy Information Administration from 2013, there were other plans for another $24 billion or so in new refineries in Iraq’s oil-producing regions, so why not jump on this Shell plan?

It turns out that there is plenty of fodder for fans of Lee Corso to shout “Not so fast, my friend!” when it comes to this deal. Back in June, there were already rumblings that the big uptick in Iraq violence could threaten expansion of Iraq’s oil sector. Even that article, though, attempted to support the notion that the Basra area remained relatively safe:

As grim as the worst-case situations may be, most analysts still say there is no immediate threat to Iraq’s southern oil fields, which account for approximately 90 percent of the country’s production and oil export. Basra, the heart of Iraq’s oil economy, is situated in an area strongly dominated by Shiites who generally support the central government and are implacable enemies of the Sunni forces on the march in the north.

Badr H. Jafar, chairman of Pearl Petroleum, a consortium that operates in Iraqi Kurdistan, said it was “highly unlikely” that terrorists could disrupt production and operations in southern Iraq.

The New York Times article containing the quote above is dated June 13, 2014. Just a couple of days later, though, we have this:

Turkey’s consulate in the Iraqi city of Basra has been evacuated due to security concerns, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu announced June 17. The 18 staff members at the consulate, including the consul general, were were taken to Kuwait, Davutoğlu wrote via his Twitter account.

And that wasn’t just a one-off thing. Consider this tweet from October:

A number of airlines discontinued flights to Baghdad because a civilian airplane was hit by bullets there yesterday while landing, but coverage of that halt notes that flights continue in and out of Basra. There was a report January 12 of a plot to attack the port just 20 miles or so from Basra.

There is one more situation that suggests future problems around Basra:

Thousands of Iraqis are living in penury and running out of money after fleeing fighting and settling in the south of the country, the UN’s food agency said on Tuesday, warning that the situation was becoming critical for families in Najaf, Kerbala and Babil.

Jane Pearce, the World Food Programme’s (WFP) country director for Iraq, said structures had not yet been put in place to cater for the people fleeing into the three southern provinces.

WFP is distributing food to 50,000 displaced families in Basra, Dhi Qar, Qadisiya, Missan, Wasit, Muthanna, Najaf, Kerbala and Babil.

/snip/

WFP needs $292m for its operations in Iraq this year, and has a shortfall of $200m.

Imagine that. Yet another region where the US has no trouble finding funds for bombs, weapons and “training” and yet the WFP is facing a shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars. But never fear, I’m sure my adorable little troll will be around shortly to stamp his foot and inform us how disaster responders in all their glory have the situation safely in hand and the US can continue its work to create even more refugees because sufficient scraps will be found just in time to avert the worst.

And of course, folks living on the edge of starvation and death from exposure will never, ever be radicalized by such an experience. Sure, go ahead and build that $11 billion petrochemical plant. The US war-industrial complex will be happy to spend hundreds of times more than that amount defending the facility.

Iran Claims Arrest of 20 Jeish Al-Adl Members

Iran announced today that twenty members of Jeish Al-Adl have been arrested. The announcement, however, did not say when or where the arrests were made. Further, although the Fars News article announcing the arrests mentions the IRGC several times, it does not indicate whether they or Iranian border guards made the arrests. As you will recall, Jeish Al-Adl has been active in the Sistan and Bolochistan province of Iran and its border with the Balochistan province of Pakistan. Most significantly, an attack they carried out in October, 2013 killed 14 Iranian border guards and exacerbated ongoing border skirmishes between the two countries. Later, Jeish Al-Adl captured five borders guards from Iran and took them to Pakistan. After killing one, the group eventually released the other four.

From the Fars News article:

Iran announced on Tuesday that it has arrested 20 members of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jeish al-Adl terrorist group.

“20 members of the Jeish al-Adl terrorist grouplet have been arrested in their hideout,” Iranian Deputy Interior Minister Hossein Ali Amiri told reporters in Tehran today.

Amiri, who is also the spokesman of the Interior Ministry, declined to provide any further detail about the exact location or date of the arrests.

Interestingly, after linking the group with al Qaeda in the opening of the article, Fars News goes on to link Sunni Wahhabism at its conclusion:

The terrorists who have reportedly been members of the outlawed Jeish Al-Adl radical Sunni Wahhabi movement fled into Pakistan after the operation in Iran’s Southeastern Sistan and Balouchestan province.

Because the announcement does not give a date for the arrests (perhaps this note from January 5 is a clue, although it too is nebulous on arrest dates), it seems reasonable to wonder about the timing of announcing them now. The dig at Wahhabism at the end of the article might be seen as a warning to Saudi Arabia not to increase support for exported extremism as a new king takes over.

However, the announcement also comes on the heels of the largest electricity outage that Pakistan has ever experienced. The blackout was triggered by an attack on transmission lines that has been claimed by the Baloch Republican Army, although the poor state of Pakistan’s power grid contributed greatly to the severity of the blackout. This group is distinct from Jeish Al-Adl is one of many groups fighting for an independent Balochistan. The attack on the power lines was about 250 miles from the border with Iran, if I am interpreting the reports and maps properly.

By mentioning the arrests now, Iran is increasing attention on the poor state of security in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. Two days after the attack, repairs to the power line have not yet started due to poor security in the region. And now Iran announces that over at the border, a large group of terrorists, presumably using Pakistan as a sometimes harbor, has also been arrested.

I’ll keep an eye out for more developments along this very interesting stretch of border.

As Disneyland Measles Outbreak Rages in California, Pakistani Father Arrested After Unvaccinated Son Contracts Polio

There is very interesting news out of Pakistan today that the father of a child who has developed polio has been arrested because he refused to allow his son to be vaccinated:

After a polio case was detected here on Thur­sday, the Kohat administration arrested the father of the affected child because he had refused to get his child vaccinated against polio when vaccinators visited his home. Two health supervisors and a patwari have also been taken into custody for showing negligence in performing their duty.

Three-year-old Moham­mad is the second victim of polio in Dhodha area of Kohat district this year.

Deputy Commissioner of Kohat Riaz Khan Mehsud told Dawn on telephone that he issued orders for arrest after an inquiry revealed that the father of the affected child, Mullah Mohammad Yousuf, had not allowed vaccinators to give polio drops to his son.

But Yousuf is not the only parent who has been arrested:

He said 56 people had so far been arrested this year for refusing to get their children vaccinated against polio.

Also on Thursday, two men were arrested in Kohat for not allowing vaccinators to give polio drops to their children. They were identified as Amir Khan and Hassan Khan.

Islamic extremist groups in Pakistan agitate against polio vaccines, spreading conspiracy theories that the vaccines are Western attempts to kill or dominate Muslims. They even attack health workers and in 2014, those attacks killed more people administering vaccines than the disease itself killed.

But of course, in a civilized country like the United States, there couldn’t be misguided attempts to prevent vaccination despite the solid scientific basis of the public health benefits of vaccines, could there? Sadly, the mass delusion that has led far too many parents to leave their children unvaccinated due to unfounded fears of autism is having the very predictable result of outbreaks of viral diseases previously under control. Here’s the latest on the current outbreak of measles that epidemiologists have traced to Disneyland. Unfortunately, we are learning that because of the reckless behavior of not vaccinating children, even those who have been vaccinated are now developing the disease because of the increased exposure from the outbreak: Continue reading

Afghan Cabinet: Nominate First, Screen Later

Just under two weeks ago, it appeared that one of the final hurdles in getting the Afghan government functioning after the disputed election may have been cleared, as a full slate for the cabinet was announced. Sadly, even though Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah took over three months to come up with the list of nominees to run their “Unity Government”, it is clear that no screening of these candidates took place, as many are now falling by the wayside. One turns out to have an Interpol red notice, as many as eleven may have dual citizenship (a direct violation of the Afghan constitution) and one may not meet the minimum age requirement.

Rod Nordland describes some of the problems that have been encountered:

Choosing the Afghan cabinet is to government what the national sport of buzkashi is to polo: a wild and woolly version with uniquely local characteristics and notably more carnage.

President Ashraf Ghani’s presentation of new cabinet nominees to Parliament on Tuesday was a case in point. One proposed nominee had just pulled out after revelations of an Interpol warrant for his arrest. Another dropped out, complaining that he did not have enough money and jobs to bribe Parliament into approving him. A third was subject to a social media smear campaign alleging that she had just gotten a new identity card so she could add a few years to her age to qualify for the job.

Several other would-be ministers were reportedly headed to the exits before Parliament got a chance to vote on them, as revelations tumbled out about dual citizenships, frowned on by the Afghan Constitution, or even, in one case, allegedly not being fluent in any national language.

It’s impossible to make this stuff up. Nordland continues:

“The candidate for rural development studied urban development, and the candidate for urban development studied rural development,” said Ramazan Bashardost, an anticorruption crusader and member of Parliament, famous for his outspokenness.

Corruption is running rampant in the confirmation process:

A more prominent nominee, Jilani Popal, a well-regarded former government official, withdrew his name from nomination as finance minister. While he is believed to have dual United States and Afghan citizenship, Mr. Popal told friends that he had pulled out when members of Parliament asked him for a total of 400 jobs in exchange for their votes, most of them in the lucrative customs service, leaving him with no slots for unstained candidates.

We get more on bribes from ToloNews:

However, a number of MPs have told TOLOnews that presidential advisor Mohammad Akram Akhpalwak has made promises of gifts to lawmakers if they vote in favor of the nominees. MPs said they had been promised IPHONE 6 mobile sets and 5-10,000 USD. Mr. Akhpalwak has meanwhile rejected the allegations.

That same ToloNews article informs us that seven of the nominees believed to have dual citizenship have been rejected by the Foreign Affairs Commission of Parliament. But over at Khaama Press, we learn that the rejection was quite the event:

The Lower House of the Parliament – Wolesi Jirga on Thursday witnessed brawl among the lawmakers over the issue of cabinet nominees holding dual citizenship.

/snip/

In the meantime, a number of the lawmakers insisted that the nominees holding dual citizenship should also be called in the session so that they can present their plans.

The lawmakers said the cabinet nominees have signed documents to surrender their second citizenship and the decision to reject the nominees with dual citizenship was not taken by the house of representatives.

Brawl among the Afghan lawmakers started after MP Shukria Barekzai critized the recent decision by joint parliamentary commission to reject the nominees insisting that the Parliament House is not authorized to deprive the rights of an Afghan national from election and voting.

The article goes on to describe a pathway through which the nominees might be brought back into eligibility. Given the slow, argument-filled route that has brought the Afghan “government” to its present state, I wouldn’t expect these questions about potential cabinet ministers to be resolved any time soon.

Ebola Outbreak Finally Receding in Sierra Leone; CDC Modeling Was Incredibly Accurate

Back in late September, just a week before Ebola panic hit a peak in the US when a patient in Dallas was diagnosed with the disease, the CDC produced a remarkable study in which they modeled the expected number of Ebola cases both with and without intervention. That study received a huge amount of press coverage, primarily because the model predicted that without intervention by public health authorities, as many as 1.4 million people could be infected. By contrast, with a program of isolating infected patients and educating survivors on proper burial techniques, the model showed that the outbreak would be much less widespread. The modeling projected cases through yesterday’s date, January 20.

Less reported in the media at the time was the projected number of cases under the scenario of intervention. The model predicted an actual number of cases between 25,000 and 30,000 by this week and a reported number of cases of nearly 10,000. Here are the two projections placed alongside one another:

CDC modeling of projected number of Ebola cases without (left) and with (right) improved patient isolation and safe burial practices.

CDC modeling of projected number of Ebola cases without (left) and with (right) improved patient isolation and safe burial practices.

The latest data from WHO indicate just over 21,000 cases as of January 11. That is a remarkable achievement by the team that developed the model. The observed actual number of reported cases fell squarely within the range predicted by the model. With the influx of health professionals to the region to provide care for infected patients, it seems likely to me that the correction factor applied in the CDC model to correct from the reported number of cases to the actual number would be very different now, so that the reported number and actual number would be much closer to one another, making the prediction even more accurate.

Last time I posted on progress in stopping the spread of the virus, we saw that the rate of appearance of new cases was dropping rapidly in Liberia but was still accelerating in Sierra Leone. The good news is that the improved practices have finally been implemented sufficiently in Sierra Leone that the rate is now dropping there. Here are the plots of weekly new cases in the two countries from the latest WHO Situation Report:

Weekly number of new cases of Ebola in Liberia (left) and Sierra Leone (right). Control of the virus was achieved about two months later in Sierra Leone than in Liberia.

Weekly number of new cases of Ebola in Liberia (left) and Sierra Leone (right). Control of the virus was achieved about two months later in Sierra Leone than in Liberia.

Although the battle is not yet over, all indications are that the outbreak is well past the worst phase and should end soon. Considering how closely the CDC model predicted the eventual size of the outbreak with the control measures that were implemented, it seems safe to say that the world would have witnessed a truly horrific level of spread of the virus had improved safety measures not been implemented. As of the January 14 WHO Situation Report, a total of 825 health care workers have been infected, with 493 of them dying. Without their sacrifices, many more would have been lost.

Rehman’s Jinnah Institute Causes Stir as Pakistani Federal Minister Calls Out Saudi Destabilization

Back when she was Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States, Sherry Rehman rankled the Obama Administration when she said in an interview with Christiane Amanpour that US drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal regions “radicalize footsoldiers, tribes and entire villages“. Rehman’s time as Ambassador came to an end with the election of President Nawaz Sharif in 2013, and she has since moved on to reactivate a think tank she founded in 2010, the Jinnah Institute. In explaining the choice of name, the institute describes its core values of humanism and tolerance. Such values are quite at odds with current governance that brings Islamism to the forefront, even allowing laws banning blasphemy (with Rehman herself having been publicly accused of blasphemy).

The Jinnah Institute is holding a two day “Ideas Conclave”, and a speech delivered there by Pakistan’s Minister for Inter-provincial Coordination, Riaz Hussain Pirzada, is getting a lot of attention:

Federal Minister for Inter-provincial Coordination (IPC) Riaz Hussain Pirzada has accused the Saudi government of creating instability across the Muslim world, including Pakistan, through distribution of money for promoting its ideology.

Addressing a two-day ‘Ideas Conclave’ organised by the “Jinnah Institute” think tank in Islamabad, the federal minister said ‘the time has come to stop the influx of Saudi money into Pakistan’.

Tying Saudi funding to promotion of its ideology seems to be quite a courageous move. Pakistan’s economy was in dire shape last year when a key $1.5 billion “loan” from Saudi Arabia helped to stop the fall in currency values. By pointing out the connection between Saudi funds and the promotion of Saudi ideology (which is clearly meant to be the extremist views held by terrorists) Pirzada seems to be saying that those funds come at too high a price.

Pirzada also admonished Pakistan’s government for the institution of military courts for trial of terrorists:

He also blasted his own government for approving military courts in the presence of an ‘independent and vibrant judiciary’ and said that military courts reflect ‘weak and coward leadership’.

“Such cowardly leadership has no right to stay in power,” Pirzada added.

It will be very interesting to see how Pirzada’s speech is received across the country. Emotions are running high with the fresh memory of the Peshawar school attack and the more recent attack in Paris. Extremists, on the other hand, are looking for support from those offended by renewed and expanded attention to cartoons portraying Mohammad in the global response to the Charlie Hebdo attack. By tying the promotion of extremism to Saudi money, Pirzada and the Jinnah Institute are calling for Pakistan to pay careful attention to the consequences of accepting Saudi funds at a time when opinions on the attendant issues are being reinforced on both sides.

Rehman and the Jinnah Institute face a difficult road if they are to move Pakistan in the direction they intend, but Prizada’s speech today seems well-timed and on point for at least beginning the discussion.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @arcsine @CNN Sure, but where, as bad as they are, is the better alternative for real TV news on breaking events?
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bmaz Oh good grief, now idiot Don Lemon + @CNN have all around terrorist hit twit Juliette Kayam on to spew about aviation stuff she doesn't know
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bmaz @jackgillum @yvonnewingett No no, that is why our main wall current vacuum is a "Dyson Animal"! http://t.co/vbj3Yj7ows
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JimWhiteGNV RT @Ali_Gharib: How nasty is UANI? They tried to block entirely legal humanitairan trade with Iran: http://t.co/JhM80IJ6J7 cc @ggreenwald
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JimWhiteGNV RT @Ali_Gharib: Even as DOJ shielded UANI, the group was spreading more smears: http://t.co/ZOMVb1ldcM cc @ggreenwald
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JimWhiteGNV RT @mkonnikova: Nerds, rejoice. This @NewYorker cartoon is for you. http://t.co/jm5QDv39on http://t.co/edGTK5tFqy
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bmaz Has @CNN put quack idiot Drew Pinsky on yet to bloviate about "psychology" of Lufthansa pilot. That's final moment CNN will be totally dead.
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bmaz @misterdevans Old, Alzheimers, dolt... I dunno, fill in the blank.
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bmaz @yvonnewingett Seriously! She guards it like a child!
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bmaz Sweet jesus, I have just realized my wife's precious hand held battery super suck Dyson vacuum is PERFECT for cleaning my patio pool table.
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March 2015
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