Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Communist group in Turkey take a prosecutor hostage. Yahoo/Reuters

A gunman holding Mehmet Selim Kiraz. Yahoo/Reuters. 

A Communist group in Turkey have taken a prosecutor hostage and are threatening to kill him. Yahoo/Reuters. The Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) published the above picture and a list of demands. Negotiators were trying to secure the release of the prosecutor, Mehmet Selim Kiraz. Kiraz was in charge of investigating the death of Berkin Elvan who was injured during an anti-government protest and later died. The DHKP-C wants to police officer accused of injuring Elvan to confess on TV and for a "people's court" to try the officers involved in the incident. They also want all charges dropped for everyone involved in the protests. Relatives of Berkin Elvan called for the release of the hostage and for no blood to be spilled.

My Comment:
For whatever reason I tend to forget that communists exist in the Muslim world. Though Turkey is much more secular then other countries in the region, they are still a Muslim majority country. I guess it makes sense that there would be communists there. First of all communism has reared its ugly head pretty much across the globe. Secondly, when you are living under a restrictive and religious government, it makes sense to support people that claim to be less oppressive and less religious. 

Unfortunately, for all their rhetoric, these communist groups in the Middle East are often just as violent as the worst Muslim groups. A brief google search of the DHKP-C reveals a long list of atrocities that mirror the actions of dozens of religious terrorist organizations. Notably DHKP-C uses suicide bombing as a tactic. The tactic is terrifying enough when religious fanatics do it, but these people are motivated only by ideology. 

I've talked about these leftist groups in the Middle East before. Notably, a female German citizen recently died in Syria while fighting with a group called the Marxist Leninist Communist Party. That case bothered me quite a bit, and not just because of how unbelievable it was. The idea that communists were fighting ISIS caused me to totally rethink the idea of Westerners fighting against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. I have a real problem in rooting for the people that are fighting against ISIS when they are just as bad and in my hierarchy of evil, communists and religious extremists are both at the top. 

As for the hostage situation itself I hope it is resolved peacefully. I don't know enough about the internal politics of Turkey to know if the hostage takers have a legitimate point about the anti-government riots, but taking hostages is a great way to turn me against them. That and the whole communism thing. Still it would be nice for one of these hostage situations overseas to be resolved peacefully. That hasn't happened very often lately... 

Finally, I would like to mention that Reuters did not mention the word communism once in the article even though the DHKP-C is an explicitly communist organization. I'm not sure what the implications of that are, but it is highly disturbing to me that it wasn't at least mentioned. Yes, they mentioned that the group was far left, but plenty of groups are far-left without being communists. A brief look on twitter also seems to lack the critical fact that these people are communists. I'll let you draw your own conclusions there... 

Monday, March 30, 2015

One dead, two injured at NSA headquarters at Ft. Meade in a gatecrashing incident. Reuters.

An aerial view of the scene. Reuters/NBC4. 

Two people were shot at the NSA headquarters at Ft. Meade in a gatecrashing incident. Reuters. One of the suspects died while a gate guard was injured as well. The suspects drove their SUV through the gate after failing to head instructions from the guards. They crashed into a parked NSA police car before being shot. The two men were dressed as women and may have been transgender. The vehicle was stolen and there are reports of weapons and drugs in the SUV. No motive or cause has been determined for the incident but officials have ruled out terrorism as a motive. 

My Comment:
Here's your weird news story for the day. When this story was breaking this morning I was very confused. Of course the NSA has been in the news lately for spying on pretty much everyone, so naturally I figured that it had been an attack in response to that. I'm pretty glad that isn't the case since the criticism of the NSA is important. A terrorist incident at the NSA would undermine that criticism, especially if the attack was done by a critic of the NSA. 

Instead this seems like it was two people out on a crime spree. The vehicle was stolen and there were reports that the two men had weapons and drugs with them. My guess is that they were high and looking for trouble. When they came across a gate guard who told them something they didn't want to hear they just ran the gate and got killed for it. 

Now I am a critic of the NSA but in this case the officers did nothing wrong. Given that the NSA is a huge target for both domestic and foreign terrorists they must have been thinking that this was a genuine attack. For all the officers knew these two men could have been suicide bombers or worse. Shooting them was justified, especially after they rammed a police vehicle. This was a good shooting. I'm hoping that the guards involved don't end up under the kind of scrutiny that so many other officers do when there is a shooting. An lets also hope that the officer/guard wounded in the attack makes a full recovery.

I'm half expecting this to turn into another social justice issue if it turns out the two men really are transgender. I'm sure that someone on twitter or tumblr will claim that the only reason these two men died was because they were transgender, even if they weren't. I'm sure some would even be pissed at me because I didn't call these men women, even though there has been no confirmation that they are even transgender. In short gender politics is a minefield even when it is clear that these two were criminals. 

Also, a story about a couple of men dressed as women who got shot for gatecrashing sounds like the plot out of some terrible black comedy. The real world is truly stranger then fiction. 

Andreas Lubitz, the pilot who crashed Germanwings 9525, had been treated for suicidal tendencies. Washington Post.

A German spokesman for the prosecutors office talks to the media about the case. Washington Post/AFP/Getty.

The pilot who crashed Germanwings flight 9525 had been treated in the past for suicidal tendencies. Washington Post.  Andreas Lubitz had sought treatment from a psychotherapist before he became a pilot because he was suicidal. Lubitz also sought treatment much more recently for some kind of vision problem. He had gone to multiple doctors but none were able to find any source for his vision problem, even suggesting that it was psychosomatic in nature. Lubitz wrote that he felt that the vision problem could cause him to lose his job. No other possible motive has been found and officials theorize that the crash may have been a spur of the moment decision. A German newspaper released information from the black box recording that appeared to show that the planes pilot had attempted to break back in to the cockpit in order to stop the disaster. Officials are also questioning Lubitz's girlfriend to see if their relationship had any role in the crash.

My Comment:
I'm fairly skeptical that the vision problem was the real cause of this crash. I have not doubt that the vision issues Lubitz was experiencing had a huge impact on his life, and being forced out of his dream job could have made him suicidal, but it seems so unlikely that he would murder 149 other people over it. I guess it is possible, but I don't buy it. 

The investigation of his girlfriend might lead to more information. I suspect that if his relationship with her was on the rocks as well that might have been enough to push him over the edge. Losing your job can put a huge amount of stress on a relationship which in turn could lead to Lubitz becoming even more depressed, which could lead to worse job performance and could have been what was fueling his vision problem in the first place. It's also my opinion that people are more likely to snap over relationship issues then work issues, but a combination of the two is obviously much worse. 

Still, it just seems bizarre to me that someone would just decide to murder 149 other people over these issues. Clearly Lubitz was not in his right mind, but this doesn't seem like a spur of the moment kind of decision. From what I understand Lubitz was alone in the cockpit for at least 10 minutes, which would have given him plenty of time to reflect on what he was doing and change his mind. In my view that rules out anything but premeditation. I know that people commit suicide almost on a whim, but this just seems more like something he planned out. 

I also have to say that I'm afraid that this story might have some unintended side effects for people who are suicidal. When the biggest story in the news is about someone who was allegedly suicidal and killed 149 other people, it is possible that people will be afraid to get help due to the stigma. I think that most people know that suicidal and depressed people are rarely a threat to anyone besides themselves but I'm worried that view could change. It wouldn't be a rational viewpoint but prejudices and stereotypes rarely are. Indeed, suicide and mental health issues are taboo enough as it is, there is no need to make it any worse. 

Though I think suicide is a selfish action, seeking help is not at all, and is in fact admirable. People should never be discouraged from seeking help with major issues like depression and suicidal tendencies. The vast majority of depressed people will never act like Andreas Lubitz did, so we shouldn't act like they will. If you are reading this and feel suicidal, get help. 

All that being said, I think it is a very good thing that airlines are adjusting their polices in the wake of this tragedy. I seriously doubt that this would have happened if there had been another person in the cockpit with Lubitz. He probably wouldn't have even tried to do this if there had been someone there to talk him out of it or prevent him from crashing the plane. Though I think that this kind of suicide attack is rare it was not unpredictable. The "suicidal pilot" scenario may be repetitively new, but the "political/religious terrorist" scenario alone justified having two people in the cockpit at all times. If there is any good to come from this tragedy, that change in policy may be it. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The mastermind of the Bardo museum attack in Tunisia has been killed. Yahoo/AP

Security camera footage from the attack. Yahoo/AFP.

The Tunisian government has decimated the leadership of the group responsible for the attack at the Bardo museum, including the mastermind of the attack. Yahoo/AP. Khaled Ben Hamadi Chaieb handled the operational side of the attack and was killed in a raid near the Algerian border. Chaieb and two of the other killed in the operation were Algerians. Chaieb was the leader of the Okba Itnou Nafaa Brigade. Although ISIS took credit for the attack it is unclear if the brigade actually has any connection to the group. Chaieb was a wanted man for an attack that killed 15 Tunisian soldiers. Thousands of Tunisians marched in support of the regime and stood against terrorism. 

My Comment:
Good to hear that the attackers in this case have been brought to justice. I would have preferred that they were taken alive but given the fact that they were hardened terrorists it is not surprising that they were not. I suppose that this group could have been falsely accused but that seems to be tinfoil hat/conspiracy theory territory. Of course, even if Chaieb wasn't the leader of the attack, he was still a bad person. There is no reason to suspect that he wasn't responsible for the attack. 

There seems to be confusion about ISIS being involved. ISIS took responsibility for the attack, though they have taken credit for attacks they had little to nothing to do with in the pass. There seems to be little evidence for ISIS involvement. The Okba Brigade has never declared alligence to ISIS and ISIS hasn't had much of a presence in Tunisia. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, active in Algeria and Mali, seems like a much stronger suspect for outside support. 

No matter who was responsible for the attack, it is clear that it accomplished its goals. Not only did it succeed in its goals in targeting westerners it damaged the government and economy of Tunisia. The attack was simple and easy to pull off but had a huge impact. Tunisia's tourism industry took a huge hit. It was also a huge blow to the credibility to the new Tunisian government, a blow softened by the swift justice the attackers received. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Syrian provincial capital of Idlib falls to al-Nusra front. Yahoo/Reuters

A technical fires at Syrian government forces. Yahoo/Reuters.

The Syrian provincial capital of Idlib has fallen to Al-Qaeda affiliate, al-Nusra Front. Yahoo/Reuters. The province of Idlib, which shares its name with the capitol city, is the second Syrian province to fall to Islamic insurgents, though it is the first one to fall to al-Nusra. Raqqa province fell to ISIS months ago. The Syrian government did not confirm that al-Nusra had taken Idlib but outside monitors confirmed the militants claim that the city had fallen. Losing the city is a major blow to the Syrian regime because it sits near the supply highway between the capital of Damascus and the major battleground city of Aleppo. 

My Comment:
This is a huge defeat for the Syrian regime and an ominous development all around. Al-Nusra has gotten much less attention then ISIS has but they are an extremely dangerous group. They are slightly less brutal then ISIS but they share much of the same ideology and are a bigger threat to western interests, at least in terms of overseas operations. They have now set up their own mini state in Syria, which is bad news for the people there. Not like the Syrian people have all that many options for good governments since everyone involved there is basically evil.  

The Syrian regime is in a bad position. Not only are they losing battles, their patron, Iran, has other competing interests. Iraq has taken up a lot of their time and resources and the conflict in Yemen threatens to distract them even further. Outside of Iran they have few allies actually willing to fight for them. They also have many enemies, not just including the various rebels and Islamic militias arrayed against them. They also have to contend with the United States and Turkey who desperately want to see regime change. 

Is the Syrian government losing the war? They still have control over some of their territory and have plenty of fighters and equipment left. But that's about all they have going for them. I don't think they will be utterly defeated any time soon though. The Syrian government's one great advantage is that all of their enemies are fighting each other. ISIS, al-Nusra and the few secular rebels that are left fight each other almost as much as they fight the government. ISIS and al-Nusra also have to contend with airstrikes from the United States and other coalition partners, and ISIS is facing huge battles in Iraq as well. If all of Syria's enemies put aside their differences and focused on taking down the government, then the Assad regime would have no chance. That's never going to happen, so for the time being the regime is somewhat safe. Still losing battles like this is not a good sign. 

Also, it is very disturbing at how much territory that radical Islam has managed to take. In addition to the vast territory captured by ISIS in Iraq, Syria and Libya, al-Nusra has its own mini-state in Syria, now with Idlib as its possible capital. Boko Haram has territory in Nigeria, while AQAP controls territory in Yemen. All of these groups control the fates of people that live in those areas. My fear is that people living their will be indoctrinated into the most radical forms of Islam and may not give up those beliefs when these areas are liberated, if they ever are. I've seen video of ISIS indoctrinating children into their belief system. If those children are ever freed from ISIS they will require some serious deprogramming. 

Finally, I think the United States needs to reevaluate their position on Syria. Though the Syrian regime is evil and has some terrible things it is clear that they are the best of bad options in the state. Nobody wants the regime to fall to either ISIS or al-Nusra. The ideal situation would be for the secular rebels to win, but there are so few of those left and the ones that are can't fight both the government and the Islamic groups. I'm not saying we should support the government but we could just admit that they are the lesser evil. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Saudi Arabia and Egypt are planning on attacking Yemen. Yahoo/AP

A Houthi rebel looking for survivors in a bombed out building near Sanaa, Yemen. Yahoo/AP

After airstrikes, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are preparing to escalate the war in Yemen by sending in ground troops. Yahoo/AP. Iran backs the Houthi rebel faction and warned Saudi Arabia that they were displeased by the airstrikes. The Saudis back the government of Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who was forced to flee the southern port city of Aden after the rebels attacked. Hadi is now in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia deployed at least 100 fighter planes and 150,000 troops are at the border awaiting orders. In addition to Saudi Arabia, jets from Egypt, Sudan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates participated in airstrikes. It is unclear how many forces from the other countries were involved, though it is known that Egypt has significant forces at sea on board troop transports. When the attack comes it will be a combined attack from both the land and from amphibious landings from both the Red and Arabian seas. The war will put Washington in a precarious position because their allies in the gulf may end up torpedoing any nuclear deal with Iran. 

My Comment:
The Middle East is falling apart rapidly to say the least. I mentioned that the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia could spin out of control, but I did not think it would go this fast. This sounds like a massive operation, and the Saudis and Egyptians are very serious about this attack. If the numbers aren't inflated it sounds like the combined forces of the two countries is around 200,000 troops. That's about what the United States deployed during the 2003 invasion of Iraq (the actual invasion force was larger due to other allies). They will also have allies on the ground and may get more help from other members of their coalition. I don't know how many troops the Houthis have but Wikipedia said they had 100,000 fighters in 2011. 

From what I understand there is going to be a sustained air attack on the Houthi forces. Saudi Arabia has already destroyed the air force of the rebellion, and are almost certainly targeting heavy armor and supply depots. Once they have destroyed a good portion of those targets the ground invasion will begin. The Saudis will attack from the north with heavy forces while the Egyptians land their forces in the south. This should trap the Houthis and split their forces. It's a good plan and it may very well work. 

The question is what is Iran going to do about it? They are backing the Houthi rebels and they want to be the dominate force in the region. This is a huge slap in the face for them and may lead them to do something stupid. There is a small chance that Iran may attack Saudi Arabia and her allies. If that happens then this minor war will spiral out of control. I don't think Iran wants to risk an all out war right now though. They are so close to a nuclear deal with the Obama administration. I have stopped trying to predict what Obama will do but he would pretty much have to abandon any deal if the Iranians attacked our allies in the region. That's the theory at least.

As for the United States, Obama must be frustrated right now. He desperately wants a nuclear deal as well to try and salvage something from his presidency. Though our relations with our Arab allies are strained, we still like them better then Iran. From what I have heard we are supporting the Saudis with intelligence but nothing more then that. Of course all of our allies in the region are armed with American technology and weapons. It will be interesting to see what they can do with them.

The article goes into detail about how bizarre this entire situation is. Saudi Arabia is our traditional ally in the region and they are fighting Iranian proxies in Yemen, who are fighting Al-Qaeda as well. We are opposed to Iran but we are also trying to get a nuclear deal with them and they are our de-facto allies in Iraq against ISIS, who are also fighting against the Arab States. Remember the old saying "What if they through a war an nobody came?". Well this is the war where everyone came. 

And just as a reminder, this is a religious war between Sunni and Shiite. The actual battlefield in Yemen is just one part of it. All across the Muslim world the two branches of Islam are in open warfare with each other. I am not sure what the long term implications of that are, other then chaos and destruction, but I do know that with both sides fighting each other they will give more opportunities for groups like ISIS, AQAP, Al-Nusra and all the other various terror groups to grow, take territory and attack their enemies, both in the region and outside of it. No good will come of this... 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

U.S. airstrikes in Tikrit begin as Iranian backed militias withdraw from the battle. Yahoo/AFP

Badr militia men heading to Tikrit. Yahoo/AFP.

U.S. airstrikes begin as Iranian backed militias withdraw from the battle of Tikrit. Yahoo/AFP. With the Shia militia units withdrawing from the front lines the Iraqi government forces, made up of 4000 Iraqi Army and Federal Police, will take the lead in the battle. The withdrawal of the militia was a condition for U.S. and collation airstrikes. The militias were the lead force in the battle for Tikrit and have been accused of committing atrocities against Sunni Muslims on multiple occasions. They were lead by an Iranian General named Qassam Soleimani. Soleimani is now out of the picture. With the Shia militias out of the way both the United States and France attacked ISIS positions in the city of Tikrit. 

My Comment:
This is a large development in the battle for Tikrit. Is it positive or negative? My guess is that the Iraqi forces are much less likely to commit atrocities against the Sunni population of Tikrit. But with only 4,000 forces they will have a lot of problems defeating ISIS. Before the withdrawal of the Shia militias the Iraqi forces had a numerical advantage over ISIS but now the numbers are more equal. Airstrikes will help but the battle will still be mostly between light infantry in house to house combat. 

The battle will still be brutal. It is a house to house fight where explosives and booby traps will be everywhere. The enemy will use suicide bombers as well. ISIS fighters are outnumbered but they are fanatics willing to die for their cause. They are also trapped which means they will fight harder. The casualties on both sides will be terrible and both sides will lose a lot of troops. 

So who will win? I still think that ISIS will probably will lose. They are still outnumbered. Airstrikes will reduce morale and destroy supplies. They are cut off from the rest of their forces. The real question isn't if they will win or lose but how much damage they will do. My guess is that the battle will be a Pyrrhic victory for Iraq. Those 4,000 troops will be decimated and Iraq will end up even more reliant on the Shia militias.

 When the next offensive happens, which will probably be the battle for Mosul, they will have to have support from the Shia militias. If the long term choice is between the fighters those militias can combine and U.S. airstrikes, I am guessing that they will go for the fighters. You can't win a battle with air power alone. You need troops on the ground to take and hold territory. Airstrikes help of course, and can have a major impact on battles, but you must have ground troops too. With the state of the Iraqi Army what it is, they will have to lean heavily on the Shia militias and the Kurds, which puts the United States in a difficult position. 

The real question is whether or not U.S. airstrikes will support these Iranian backed militias directly. There have been limited strikes in support of them before but those were never common and were always coordinated with Iraqi government forces on the ground. Given their poor human rights record and the fact that they aren't much better then ISIS, it would make the United States look very hypocritical to do so. More importantly, with the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Yemen looking like it has a real possibility to heat up into an actual shooting war, outside events could overtake the situation in Iraq. 

Co-Pilot of Germanwings Flight 9525 crashed the plane deliberately. Yahoo/AP.

An Airbus A320. Wikipedia/Julian Herzog. 

The Germanwings Flight 9525 was deliberately crashed by its copilot, Andreas Lubitz, killing 150 people. Yahoo/AP. Officials claim that Andreas Lubitz locked the pilot out of the cockpit and put the plane into a dive. The pilot could be heard trying to get back in to the cockpit on the black box voice recording. Lubitz never responded to the pilot and dove the plane into the side of a mountain without saying a word. The Airbus A320 is designed to allow pilots to override the lock on the cockpit door with a special pass-code, but the pilot can override that override and deny entry. In the United States, flight regulations require at least two people in the cockpit at all times. Unfortunately, European flight regulations allow one pilot to be alone in the cockpit. Andreas Lubitz is not reported to have any connections to any terrorist organizations. Officials have not given any motive for the crash. 

My Comment:
I didn't post about this crash earlier because it was obvious that nobody new anything until now. This is a very disturbing development all around. I have no idea what the motive for this was. I can say that I really doubt that it was a terrorist attack. And by that I mean that Lubitz had any connection to any terrorist groups. It could still be politically motivated but I haven't heard any reason for that to be the case. And if it was a case of political terrorism, why crash it into a mountain? Why not into a building? 

Another option is suicide. That also seems unlikely, at least in the sense of that Lubitz's only motivation was killing himself. Though there is no way to kill yourself that won't end up hurting someone, there are ways to do it without taking 149 people with you. Frankly, I just can't see someone having so little consideration to other people that he would just kill everyone else on that plane. I consider all suicide to be selfish but that is too far selfish to even be called suicide anymore. The only thing I can think of is that he had some kind of break where thought he had to kill himself right then and there, but even that seems unlikely because he had several minutes to change his mind. I guess there is a possibility that the copilot entered into some kind of fugue state to the point he had no idea what he was doing but that just seems unlikely. 

The most likely option is that Lubitz just wanted to kill a bunch of people, along with himself. We might never find out why, but it is possible it was due to mental illness. He might have just been evil as well. Like I said, if all he wanted to do was kill himself, he could have done it without killing 149 other people. You don't kill 149 people without being angry about something. It may have been political or personal, but until we get more information about Lubitz, we won't know for sure. 

What we do know for sure is that the Europeans and the Germanwings/Lufthansa need to change their policies are change them fast. There is no reason for a pilot to ever be alone in a commercial aircraft like this one. If the pilot or copilot have to leave the cockpit for any reason then a flight attendant should sit in the cockpit until they return. The pilot or copilot might still be able to fight the flight attendant, but at least there would be a struggle and he or she could call for help and/or unlock the door. This is one of those things that just seems so basic in a post 9/11 world that I can't believe they don't do it already. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Yemen is heating up. Reuters.

Loyalist militia prepare for battle against the Houthi rebels. Reuters.

The war between the Sunni Yemeni government, backed by Saudi Arabia, and the Shia Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, is heating up. Reuters. Houthi rebels have taken a major air base and are threatening the critical port city of Aden. Aden is not only a strategic city, it is where Yemen's president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, fled after losing the capital city of Sanaa to the rebels. Airstrikes from unknown aircraft also struck the city. The conflict is widely being seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni states in the region, and the government of Iran. The Arab states are considering intervening while the Saudis are moving weapons to the boarder of Yemen. Meanwhile, Houthi rebels are pushing hard to take the city of Aden before a meeting of the Arab League. Pro-Hadi forces are gathering weapons and preparing for the attack. 

My Comment:
Looks like Yemen is going to hell in a hand-basket right now. The whole war is a major embarrassment for the United States. Just a little while ago Obama was claiming that Yemen was a model partner in the war against Al-Qaeda. Now look at them. American forces are fleeing from the area. We already evacuated the embassy when the Houthis took Sanaa, with our tails between our legs mind you, and our special forces have withdrawn from the country. 

This is very bad news for the fight against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Much like ISIS and the Al-Nusra front grew in the chaos of Syria during their civil war, and how Libya fell into factions and Jihadism, AQAP may do the same thing. With the Houthis and the Hadi loyalists fighting each other, and the American military largely pushed out of the country, there will be little opposition for AQAP. Like ISIS and Al-Nusra, they could end up taking and holding territory in Yemen. That is very bad news for us as AQAP is a terror group that has proven capable of sophisticated and complex terror attacks. 

Of course there are other players as well. The conflict in Yemen is a proxy war between Iran and the Arab States. Both groups are competing for control of the Middle East and want to have control of the future of the region. It's not just Yemen either. Iran is supporting Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq as well, while Saudi Arabia and the other Arab states are opposing the Iranians in all of those countries. The tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are so high that Saudi Arabia has improved relations with Israel, which would have been unthinkable before. 

There is also the religious angle as well. I've said dozens of times on this blog that the Iraq War is primarily a battle between Sunni Muslims and everyone else, with the largest opponent being Shia Muslims. It's largely the case in Yemen as well, though there are fewer religious minorities in the country that aren't aligned to either group. The conflict between Shia and Sunni Islam is centuries old and has broken out into open warfare before, but this conflict is the largest in recent memory. Back when the Iraq War had just broken out there was conflict but it stayed in Iraq. Now the entire Middle East is burning. 

So who do I want to win? Can't they both lose? I'm not a fan of either Saudi Arabia or Iran. I both think they are repressive theocracies with a terrible record on human rights. Neither of them have any moral authority. The Saudis were decent allies of convince against Iran but President Obama has pissed that away for what looks like a joke of a deal on Iran's nuclear weapons program. That managed to alienate our other major ally in the region... No matter who wins or loses the whole region will be full of angry young people that hate America. The only advantage I can think of is that if Iran wins, they might be able to destroy the Sunni terror groups, like ISIS, Al-Nusra and AQAP that are giving the western world so many problems right now. But that could take years or even decades. 

There are no good options in the Middle East and no matter who wins, our interests will not be served. Yemen is probably going to end up just like Iraq, Syria, Libya and Egypt. With overthrown governments, conflicting ethnic and religious groups and eternal war. It seems like the entire region is heading that direction... 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Why I don't like Reddit.

One of my friends asked me the other day why I dislike Reddit. As one of the more popular websites on the internet there aren't a whole lot of people that don't use Reddit at least once and awhile. I myself visit occasionally too, but as a whole I dislike it. The reason I usually give is that the layout is just terrible. Which, in my mind, is 100% true. I hate the layout for Reddit. But that is a shallow criticism I use to end the discussion because my real objections to the site are much more complex and harder to explain.

My first major problem with the site is the upvote/downvote/reddit gold system. I think comments and arguments should stand on their own merits, and not how popular they are. On Reddit, unpopular opinions, that break no rules, are downvoted to oblivion based on nothing other then their unpopularity. Compare that to other sites where unpopular opinions are left up and are not hidden. Instead of actual discussion, there is an echo chamber where no alternate voices are able to be heard. Now this doesn't matter for certain subreddits, such as the humor based ones, but for more serious topics you aren't allowed to stray to far from that particular subreddits internal politics. That kind of atmosphere is stifling and is not something I want to have a part off.

I'm also not a fan of how left the site is. And by left I don't mean "mainstream liberal thought". I can tolerate that, and even read many sites with a bias in that direction. I mean "far left, social justice warrior, these people are crazy and make Che Guevara look like George Bush Jr." left. Subreddits like SRS have considerable influence over the site and are on the opposite side of my personal political beliefs. Of course a lot of what SRS is reacting too is pretty gross and/or wrong but I still have major problems with the social justice movement. For me, outrage over disgusting/politically incorrect speech will always be much more offensive then the speech itself.

I generally don't like going onto sites where the social justice crowd is active. I think they should have a right to free speech like everyone else, and I am willing to fight for that right, but reading about how everything is racist and everything is sexist and how I am a terrible human being just because I happened to be born as the sex and ethnicity I am is, quite frankly, profoundly annoying and mentally exhausting. Like Twitter and Tumblr, social justice dominates the conversation, even in places where it shouldn't exist. I can only take so much of that before I have to go elsewhere. The social justice crowd talks a lot about "safe spaces" but sometimes I need to go to places that are safe spaces from them.

Though I know there are plenty of areas on Reddit where the social justice crowd does not have control, the fact that they are so active on the site makes me nervous. It is the same fear I have on Twitter. If I post something controversial or "problematic" on either site there is always a chance that one of the social justice people will see it, take it out of context, repost it across the internet, start a hashtag campaign against me and have hundreds of people try and ruin my life. I've seen it happen to so many other people before, and I don't want it to happen to me, which is a large reason why I have never posted anything from this blog on Reddit. I do post on Twitter even though the risk is the same or even greater because Twitter is a lot easier to take down if something bad happens. Plus combining the risk of the two sites seems dangerous.

By the way, getting targeted by social justice warriors is by far my biggest fear from this blog. To put that in perspective a decent portion of this blog is about how terrible ISIS is. I am much less afraid of offending ISIS then I am of social justice warriors. The worst ISIS can do is cut my head off. The social justice crowd can come after my job, my family and my friends. And while getting killed by ISIS would turn me into a martyr for free speech, getting doxed and having my life ruined by the social justice crowd would turn me into a pariah at best, and could cost me more then that. I know that that is a risk just from having this blog, and that other groups or even random trolls could do the same thing. However, there is a difference between hiding out in my own tiny corner of the internet and getting some bad luck with a random jerk and going into the den of the beast and poking the dragon in the eye. (By the way, if any social justice people read this and are tempted to come after me, please don't. I am really not worth the effort. My life already sucks!)

I could deal with all of that if it wasn't for one thing. Reddit is absolutely hypocritical when it comes to free speech. This goes far beyond the echo chamber issue I mentioned before. To some extent that is a problem with every internet forum. But beyond that Reddit has a very bad history of caving to people when they raise objections to questionable content. My philosophy is that if you want to be a champion of free speech you have to allow all of it, even the stuff most people think is evil. As long as it is legal in the United States, it should be allowed, otherwise you are a hypocrite if you say you support free speech but ban people that say things you don't like. A lot of that is because of the subreddit echo-chamber issue as well, because people who go against the culture of the subreddit are likely to banned as well, Sure, Reddit is a lot more open about content then many sites but they don't go nearly as far as they should if they really want to be considered the champions of free speech they claim to be.

I also don't like their stance on some of their major controversies  as well, largely due to the free speech issue. I won't go into many of them because there are too many to mention but I will mention the latest one. The amount of censorship over the latest internet controversy, Gamergate, which I have written about on this blog before, was just insane. Considering how trivial the actual issue was, I was shocked about how many people were banned on the site.

 And when you think about the stuff Reddit does allow it was incomprehensible to me that people were being banned for even mentioning  something as stupid as a sex/corruption scandal in the video games industry. It's just like Twitter going all out against anyone who is mean to a celebrity (on a platformed that is inherently confrontational) but letting ISIS recruit freely. It makes no sense whatsoever. I just don't understand why the Westboro Baptist Church can have a subreddit to spew their hate (I won't link to it but it does exist), but a user can be banned for asking Julian Assange what he thinks about Gamergate in an AMA. Sure the actual bad people who were harassing people should have been banned, from both sides of the controversy mind you, but not people who just wanted to talk about it.

Regardless of what you think of Gamergate (and I think the whole thing is pretty stupid, but with one side being MUCH worse then the other) the reaction to it was disproportionate. Actually, when I think about it, the entire internet's reaction to Gamergate was stupid as hell and everyone should be ashamed of themselves. Reddit was the front line in the controversy and remains a battleground today. To their credit Reddit did allow discussion of the issue after some time, but the whole incident left a bad taste in my mouth.

I could tolerate all of it if they weren't such utter and terrible hypocrites about free speech. If they just came out and said, "we don't believe in free speech and will censor opinions we don't like or any opinion that draws negative controversy to us" I would have a much better opinion of them. I don't like that as a policy but it is a fair one and isn't hypocritical. Either way, as long as they claim to be champions of free speech while at the same time supporting censorship on their site, I won't be a fan.

It's a shame too because Reddit does have some nicer points as well. They have some good discussions in the nicer parts of the site and it is a great place to check what is important to the internet at any given time. It's just that the awful outweighs the good.

Monday, March 23, 2015

"Unprecedented threat" of terrorism in France. Yahoo/AFP

French troops patrol in a shopping center. Yahoo/AFP.

The risk of a jihadi terrorist attack in France has reached unprecedented levels, according to French officials. Yahoo/AP. Counter-terrorist officials claim that they find new threats daily, with cells trying to recruit fighters for Iraq and Syria. As many as 4000 people in France are being targeted as potential or actual jihadists. The level of skill with these groups has increased as well. Trying to evade electronic surveillance, the suspects swap SIM cards for cell phones while others avoid using phones at all. French officials consider fighters returning from Iraq or Syria to be the biggest threat, with as many as 200 fighters having returned. There is also concern of an escalating war between ISIS and Al-Qaeda with each group competing with each other in terms of terror attacks. Both groups are trying to outdo each other. Thousands of police and soldiers have been deployed in France while new surveillance laws are being put into place. 

My Comment:
I wonder how much of this threat is legitimate. No doubt there are active terror cells in France, as well as the rest of Europe for that matter. But the last part of the article that says France is introducing new surveillance laws makes me extremely uncomfortable. While the NSA scandal has faded a bit from public consciousness, it is still fresh in my mind at least. My guess is that the threat is real but the new laws put into place to ostensibly fight terrorism will just serve to further erode the rights of French citizens. 

That being said, I am struck at the pictures I am seeing coming out of Europe lately. Armed guards everywhere, soldiers on the streets and cops out in force. That's something I have only seen in America once, right after the 9/11 attacks. Though the article concerned France, the new security situation isn't unique to them. Indeed, almost every European country with a large Muslim population has to be taking the threat of a Chalrie Hebdo/Bardo Museum style attack seriously. 

I've been talking a lot lately about how effective these kinds of mass shooting terror attacks have been. They are cheap, safe and incredibly effective in multiple different ways. I haven't really talked about how they are amazingly effective at provoking a disproportionate response. Over all these attacks won't kill all that many people, but the amount of fear they create is massive. Quite frankly, people won't tolerate it if these kinds of attacks become common place, even if they statistically have little chance of dying to one. I think people generally realize that it is much easier to grab a couple of people with rifles and have them go on a killing spree then it is to organize a bombing or hijacking.

So how do you fight this? The obvious, and unacceptable, solution is to either eject Muslims from Europe or at the very least treat all of them like terrorists in terms of surveillance and law enforcement. This won't work for both ethical and pragmatic reasons. Obviously blaming an entire group for the actions of a minority in that groups isn't fair and can't be considered ethical. Plus there is no political will to do so and even if there was it probably isn't possible at this point anyways. Setting up some restrictions for immigration and bringing back internal borders within the EU might mitigate the problem though. Even that would face incredible opposition... 

My solution is probably much more effective and not nearly as unethical as that though. Just let civilians carry guns again. The European Jewish community, who are understandably paranoid about being targeted, has floated this idea but it seems to have gotten little traction. Quite frankly Europeans hate guns in the hands of civilians. I actually think the "eject all the Muslims from Europe" solution would happen much sooner then even a slight expansion of gun rights in Europe. For most of Europe hating Muslims is more politically correct then respecting the right to bear arms and it is in no way politically correct to hate Muslims in Europe. 

It's a damn shame too because gun rights would help. Mass shootings tend to end in one way or the other when people start shooting back. It also makes taking hostages more risky if the terrorists have to worry about one of the hostages packing heat. It wouldn't stop these attacks but it could lower their impact and could force these terror groups to eventually abandon the tactic. It would also have the added benefit of reducing the impact of heavy police and military patrols. Too bad it will never happen...  

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Manhunt! Third attacker in Tunisian museum attack on the loose. AP.

A screencap from surveillance video showing all three attackers. AP/Tunisian Government

This is the surveillance footage. Some graphic content. 

The president of Tunisia announced that there was a third attacker in last weeks deadly terror attack on the Bardo Museum and that the attacker is on the run. AP. The attack, which killed 21 people, ended with two of the attackers dead. A third man has shown up in surveillance footage released by the government (and posted above). In the footage two men carrying rifles walk up to a third with a backpack and briefly greet each other before heading on. Tunisia's president, Beji Caid Essebi said that the country was now at war with the attackers and that they have no connection to Islam. ISIS had previously taken credit for the attack but no media has been able to verify those claims. 

My Comment:
Very strange that this man was able to escape. One wonders if he was involved at all. Looking at the footage though it seems unlikely that he wasn't. For a guy suddenly seeing two heavily armed men he seemed far to calm. To me the third mans body language didn't say "there are two guys with rifles here". It said "oh it's YOU guys. Good luck, time for me to get out of here".  Maybe this really was the calmest guy in Tunisia and the two gunmen just arbitrarily decided to let him go. That seems very unlikely though. Still if the the Tunisian government is wrong I would hate to be that guy right now...

So if this third person is legit, what was his role in the attack? I kind of doubt he was a gunmen since he didn't have any weapons on him at the time, though I guess it is possible. My guess is he was a handler in charge of the operation, or at least the one in command of the other two. He also could have been an inside man, who helped the gunmen get into restricted areas. I have no idea if that would even be necessary for a museum though. It's even possible that he was a suicide bomber who chickened out. Whatever he was we probably won't know until they catch him or the cell he belongs to collapses. 

As for the attack itself, CNN was saying that they are having trouble identifying who is dead. Not surprising that most of the victims were foreign tourists. That's a logistical nightmare and it isn't surprising at all that they can't figure out who is who. Although this attack took place in Tunisia, it is quite clearly an international attack. The tourists were targeted specifically because they were from other countries. 

Also, the fact that this attack happened on the steps of the Tunisian government is a very strong statement. To me ISIS, or whoever is behind the attack, is saying that they could have attacked the government but chose not too. They are saying that they have the power to strike but choose to strike elsewhere because their real targets are the west. It is also saying that the Tunisian government is powerless to stop them. After all, if they can't stop a major terror attack right on their doorstep, how can they prevent it anywhere else? That is not a thought that is going to comfort anyone living in Tunisia. Of course, I could be reading the situation wrong. Maybe Tunisia is like Canada was before their own brush with Islamic terrorism? That is to say, perhaps security was much lighter then it would be in a place like the United States. 

I've talked before about how effective the Charlie Hebdo style attack is. I won't rehash much of it here, but consider this. We are still talking about this attack days after it occurred. That is a huge propaganda victory for ISIS or whoever did this attack. Sure, that happens when you bomb a building as well, but the chances of failure are much higher. Once again, these kinds of high-impact, low-risk, low-cost attacks are proving very attractive for terrorist organizations. Expect more of the same in the future. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sunni Muslims in Iraq accuse Shia militias of razing a Sunni town. Yahoo/Reuters

A convoy of refugees pass through a checkpoint on their way home. Yahoo/Reuters.

Iraqi officials and police officers are accusing a Shia militia group of looting and burning the Sunni town of al-Dour. Yahoo/Reuters. The militia, Kataib Hezbollah, denied the reports. The officials claimed that over 150 homes were destroyed by the group. Al-Dour was liberated by the Iraqi Army and Shia militias during the now stalled offensive to take back the city of Tikrit. In the wake of the offensive, Sunni Muslims have accused the Shia militia groups of extra-judicial killings and retribution for the fact that few Sunni Muslims fought against ISIS. In denying the attacks, Kataib Hezbollah explained that operations to disarm explosives placed by ISIS could have been mistaken for retaliation. Other Iraqi officials have claimed that no looting or destruction is going on. 

My Comment:
Not sure what to think about this case. On the one hand, the excuse this Shia group used, that they were just disarming booby traps and explosives, does make sense. On the other, this in not the first time that Shia militias have been accused of razing Sunni towns. They have also been accused of killing prisoners and harassing and even killing Sunni and Christian civilians. Given the recent history of the Shia militias, I tend to think that the reports are real. Undoubtedly, there are a lot of booby traps and explosives in al-Dour, but I seriously doubt that 150 buildings in the town were booby trapped. 

This was always the fear since the offensive to take back Tikrit began. Iraq's lack of a real army has made them very dependent on these Shia militias. And the Shia militias are not all that much better then ISIS. The best thing you can say about them is that they aren't cutting peoples heads off on video (at least not often) and aren't enslaving women to be used as sex slaves (so far). As the offensive in Tikrit stalls out and the various militia groups get frustrated, expect more of this sectarian violence to occur. 

The actions of the Shia militias puts both the Iraqi government and her Western allies in a delicate and uncomfortable situation. Iraq pretty much has to use these militia units because their military is too fractured and damaged to conduct offensive operations on their own. But depending on these units is a liability. Not only does the United States have a huge problem with these Iranian backed militias in the first place, but when they commit atrocities it makes it impossible for the United States to support their operations. America doesn't want to be caught supporting people that aren't much better then ISIS but they also want the Iraqi government to win. It is a difficult situation all around, especially for the small number of Sunnis fighting for the Iraqi government. I wonder how those fighters will rationalize fighting for a government that is actively supporting groups that are attacking their people. 

Yet again, this is another example of the deteriorating relations between Sunni and Shia. Well, deteriorating might not be the right word for it because it implies that the two groups weren't in open warfare for quite some time now. The entire conflict in Iraq and Syria, and to a lesser extent, Yemen as well, is a proxy war between Sunni Islam, led by the Gulf States, and Shia Islam, led by Iran. Neither side will fight each other openly for control over Islam, but they will let their proxies fight it out. ISIS isn't a proxy for the Gulf States, but other less extreme groups are. The conflict is having a terrible toll on civilians of both religions. It's telling that both Sunni and Shia Muslims are willing to put up with the extreme actions of both ISIS and the militias if it means they can feel safe. Like so many other conflicts in history people are supporting their side not because they are right but because they aren't the ones that are attacking their people.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Ebola returns to Liberia... Yahoo/AFP

Beatrice Yordoldo was the last Ebola patient in Liberia until the new case. Yahoo/AFP.

More then a month after the last Ebola case in Liberia, the disease has returned. Yahoo/AFP. A new patient has been found 27 days after the last case of Ebola in the country was released from the hospital. Liberia has not had any new cases of Liberia since February 20th. It is very unclear how the patient had come into contact with the disease because everyone in Liberia who had been known to be exposed to the virus had passed the 21 day observation period. Liberia was to be officially declared Ebola free by April 15th, if the new case had not come. 

My Comment:
Much of the other news in the report I covered the other day so I won't repeat myself here about Sierra Leone and Guinea. But this is horrible news for Liberia. They were so close to having beaten the disease. They were only a couple of weeks from being declared Ebola free and to have this happen now is devastating. Especially considering how hard Liberia had been hit by Ebola. Liberia had been the great success story but now nothing is certain. 

My big concern is how on earth did this person contract Ebola? Did she travel to Sierra Leone or Guinea? Did she come into contact with someone from those countries or someone else who had contact with people from those countries? Are there still Ebola infections in Liberia that somehow slipped under the radar? Or did she have some contact with contaminated medial waste that was somehow still infectious? All of these are possible. But my biggest concern is that there is now a new natural host for the disease. If some native animal was able to act as a host and has contact with the disease it is possible that this woman caught it that way. If so that is very bad news because it means Ebola will be very hard to eliminate fully. 

Still, this is only one case. If she didn't expose anyone and they are able to figure out where she caught the virus they should be able to contact trace and isolate anyone who was exposed. This is a lot more like the situation in Mali or the United States then the situation in Liberia even a few months ago. Tracking one case is not nearly as difficult as tracking hundreds. With any luck at all this new infection will be the only one. 

Suicide bombings in Yemen kill dozens of people. CNN

Fighters inspect the damage at the Al Badr Mosque. AFP

Multiple suicide bombings in Yemen have killed at least 100 people. CNN. Two mosques, the Al Badr and the Al Hashoosh, both in Yemen's capital of Sanna were targeted in the attack, which also wounded 300 people. The Shia mosques were frequented by the Houthi rebel group, that recently forced the President of Yemen to flee. The attacks come as conflict between the Houthi rebel group and the Sunni majority government come to a head. Fighting between the groups have become more fierce, but have been mostly contained to the port city of Aden. Houthi rebels were even able to launch an airstrike into Aden. No terrorist group has taken responsibility for the mosque attacks. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has vowed attacks against the Houthi rebels but it is unclear if this attack was their work. The attacks were sophisticated, with the same pattern of attack happening in both locations. A suicide bomber detonated inside the mosques while a car bomb exploded outside. 

My Comment:
Looks like Yemen is going to further descend into the sectarian conflict that is burning the entire Muslim world right now. It is unclear who is responsible for this attack but I can tell you that they were almost certainly Sunni Muslims. My strong suspicion is that it would be AQAP though. They are a fairly sophisticated terrorist group and they are fairly skilled at bombings. As you may remember, AQAP were the ones that pulled off the Charlie Hebdo attacks, so they are trying to make a bigger name for themselves. Blowing up a couple of mosques filled with Shia Muslims would meet there objectives. 

I haven't been following the strife in Yemen all that closely, mostly because it is nothing new. I do know that the chaos did have a major impact on U.S. efforts to hamper AQAP. With the Houthis taking over, and the formally loyal government being all but kicked out of power, the United States does not have many options. I doubt the Houthis would work with the United States even under these circumstances, and I am guessing the distrust is more then mutual. All this creates a vacuum where groups like AQAP can operate freely. When that happens, attacks like the one we saw today are inevitable. 

Once again, this is yet another battle in the larger conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims. We are seeing that in Iraq, and to a lesser extent, Syria. To see it expand to Yemen as well is not good. I have no doubt that Iran is supporting the Houthi rebels, the same way they support the Iraqi government and the regime of Bashar Al-Assad. Iran wants to be seen as not only the strongest secular power in the Middle East but as the leader of the Muslim religion. Sunni Muslims obviously don't see it the same way and are stuck between two factions. The less extreme secular governments are having huge problems with the extremist rebel and terrorist groups that want to bring the fight to Iran and her proxies.

 The weakness of the Sunni governments, the discrimination on all sides and the terrible acts of terrorism are further driving a wedge between Sunni and Shia Islam. The wounds are much, much older then that but the modern world is doing its best to make sure those wounds stay raw and open. It's an age old conflict and the only solutions is for both sides to talk to each other or for one side to get wiped out. Since neither of those things are likely to happen, expect the Middle East to be a basket-case, with both side stuck in the cycle of revenge, for the foreseeable future.  

Thursday, March 19, 2015

ISIS takes responsibility for Tunisia attack. Yahoo/Reuters

People gather near the morgue in Tunisa. Yahoo/Reuters.

ISIS has taken responsibility for the attack in Tunisia that killed 20 tourists. Yahoo/Reuters. In addition to three Tunisians, Japanese, Italian, British and Spanish tourists were the victims of the attack. ISIS and their affiliates took responsibility for the attack, though not directly. The attack is consistent with their tactics. In addition, the two terrorists killed in the attack, both Tunisians, are rumored to have been in both Iraq and Libya, where ISIS has a very strong presence. Thousands of Tunisians have joined up with ISIS and other extremist groups, making the country the largest source for foreign fighters in the terrorist organization. The attack has been devastating to Tunisia, which is largely dependent on tourism for its economy. In response to the attack, Tunisia is deploying its army. 

My Comment:
If this turns out to be true then it marks a new stage in the fight against ISIS. Until now ISIS has been content to limit there attacks to Iraq, Syria and Libya. If they are expanding their operations to include Al-Qaeda style attacks on Western targets then that is a very bad thing. Though Tunisa is an African nation, the primary target of this attack was not Tunisa, but international tourists. I'm not sure if ISIS has the capability to attack targets in Europe but even if they can't international tourists in areas where ISIS has presence are at risk. I'd avoid traveling to the Middle East or North Africa for the time being. Which is exactly what Tunisia does not want to hear.  

But is it true? My guess is that it is. ISIS has taken responsibility for such attacks before, but I think in this case it was them. Largely because ISIS has so many fighters from Tunisia. Other terrorist organizations do not have nearly as many. That isn't conclusive evidence, but it is circumstantial evidence. Even if ISIS didn't do it though, this is still a propaganda victory for them. Much like the Charlie Hebdo attack, which only had tangential ISIS involvement, this attack demonstrates that radical Islamic terrorism is on the march. It also shows that western targets are not invincible. 

So what can be done about these kinds of attacks? Not a whole lot unfortunately. Like I said before, these kinds of attacks are cheap, effective and safe from disruption. You only need a couple of guys with rifles to execute one of these attacks. ISIS has no shortage of fighters, most of whom would not care if their attack was a suicide mission. The only way to really prevent these attacks is to prevent the people that want to carry them out from entering your country. Preventing ISIS fighters from returning home or arresting them as soon as they try would be a huge step. The other tactic would be to kill them in their training camps. That isn't really viable since there are so many of them. Plus ISIS could use the strikes as a further recruiting tool. 

Another option is arming civilians. Concealed carry can't prevent these kinds of attacks but it is possible that they could lessen the impact. True, the civilians would be outgunned but at least they would have a chance. If nothing else it would turn these "soft target" attacks into hard target attacks. 

Sierra Leone to lockdown 2.5 million people in a final effort to defeat Ebola. Yahoo/AFP

An Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone. Yahoo/AFP

Sierra Leone, in a last ditch effort to defeat Ebola, will confine 2.5 million people to their homes for three days. Yahoo/AFP. The lockdown will start on March 27th and will end on the 29th. With 3,700 of the 10,200 deaths from Ebola, Sierra Leone has been especially hard hit by the disease. While the country is locked down, teams will search houses for Ebola patients in the capitol of Freetown and the northern districts of Bombali and Port Loko. The teams will also stress the importance of safe burials as unsafe burials are a major way for the disease to spread. The three districts are where the majority of new cases are being found in Sierra Leone. The country has set a deadline of April 15th for the eradication of the disease. Sierra Leone has seen fewer cases lately, with only 55 cases reported last week, the best number since June of last year. The news is not nearly as good in Guinea, where they reported 95 new cases, the most since the new year. 

My Comment:
Let's hope this lockdown works. The Ebola outbreak needed to be defeated months ago, but it still lingers on. What is happening in Sierra Leone is encouraging. As amazing as it is that people are still failing to practice safe burial practices, it is apparently still happening. This lockdown should help with that and if nothing else it will allow officials to determine how bad the problem still is. And maybe, just maybe they will stop the virus in its track. That's the hope at least.

And it isn't like there isn't a precedent for success here. Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Spain, The United States, and The United Kingdom were able to defeat Ebola. Liberia is on the way to defeating Ebola as well. As far as I can tell there haven't been any new cases there for some time. They haven't made it to the 42 day mark yet, but it seems like they have a very good chance of doing so. If Ebola can be defeated there, where Ebola looked apocalyptic just a few months ago, it can be defeated in Sierra Leone and Guinea.  

Speaking of Guinea, it seems they are having some problems. The fact that the number of cases there are increasing dramatically wasn't really covered in the article, but the rate of increase is disturbing. I'm not sure what their problem is there but I am guessing it is a combination of two factors. First they are having the same problems with unsafe burials as everyone else has. Second, they haven't gotten as much support fighting the disease as Liberia and Sierra Leone have. I don't know how true that is, but it seems like it makes sense. Guinea has always been the forgotten front in the Ebola war, so it is possible. If they need help, they need to get it and fast. A huge spike in cases in Guinea could reverse all the gains in Liberia and Sierra Leone. 

I haven't said much about the Ebola patient in America. Largely because that person was taken to a hospital that has isolation units and are trained to fight Ebola. I don't see another outbreak in the United States. The one we did have should have never have happened. Indeed, had the initial patient been taken to a hospital with a proper isolation ward when he was first treated, then nothing would have happened. Other then that incident, America has had  fairly good record at treating Ebola and stopping any secondary infections. That should remain the case for the foreseeable future. 

As a final note, I am looking forward to the day when Ebola is defeated. I've been following this story for more then a year now and I have been blogging about it since I started this blog. It's an important story that needed to be, and still needs to be, covered. But out of all the posts the only one I will enjoy writing is the one where I say "Ebola is gone!" 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Gunmen kill 7 tourists and hold more hostage in Tunisia. Yahoo/Reuters

Security forces respond to the attack in Tunisia. Yahoo/AFP.

Terrorists have killed at least 7 tourists and are holding more hostage at the National Museum of Tunisia. Yahoo/Reuters. At least two gunmen were spotted at the Bardo Museum, which is a popular tourist destination. Tunisia has been largely free of Islamic terrorism since the overthrow of their government during the Arab Spring, in contrast to virtually every other government in the region, including Libya, Syria and Egypt. In addition to the 7 tourists at least one Tunisian has died as well. It is unclear what the nationalities of the 7 tourists are. Rome said that at least two Italians  had been wounded in the attack. It is unclear at this point who carried out the attack but Tunisia has had a very large problem with people traveling to join ISIS and other radical organizations. More then 3000 have joined these groups. 

My Comment:
This is very bad news for Tunisia, which has until now been largely peaceful since the Arab Spring. It seems fairly obvious that this is an Islamic terrorist attack. The fact that this was a major tourist destination, populated with at least some Europeans, tells me that they were the primary targets. The fact that it is happening at a museum tells me that the terrorists are probably more iconoclastic like ISIS is. It is hard to respect history when you think that history is blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad. 

I've seen some photos on twitter that are supposedly from the museum. Some of the hostages may indeed be children. If that is the case then, well, what do you even say? That it is horrible? My hope is that these terrorists at least have enough human decency to release the kids. But given the track record for Islamic terrorism, I am not holding my breath. 

I'm wondering if this is another "Charlie Hebdo" style attack. It seems clear that the trend is for gunmen to attack instead of the old school suicide bombings. Not only are those kinds of attacks easier to pull off, they are also harder to defend against. It is possible that these attackers were inspired by the Charlie Hebdo attacks in terms of tactics and strategy. It is also possible that it is the same group, but it is too soon to know that. Either way this is a very distrubing trend because these kinds of attacks are cheap, hard to detect and hard to prevent. It's possible that sending a couple of guys in with rifles to shoot a bunch of people and then take hostages will be the go-to terrorist attack for the foreseeable future. 

There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of other information at this point. I've seen some twitter chatter about hostages being rescued and the gunmen being killed but I don't consider twitter to be at all reliable. A few semi-releible sources, including RT are saying that there was another exchange of gunfire, so it is possible that this attack is over. Here's hoping that there weren't any other casualties besides the suspects. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Heavy fighting in Libya between ISIS and government forces. Reuters.

Fighters on their way to fight ISIS. Reuters.

Heavy fighting in Sirte, Libya between ISIS and the forces of the alternate Libyan government. Reuters. Families fled the site of the battle as ISIS fighters and Libya Dawn forces fight for control of the city. Reports of western aid workers and medical staff have not been confirmed. Sirte has long been a battlefield between the two governments of Libya. Both Libya Dawn and the internationally recognized government of Libya have forces in the area and are fighting over nearby oil ports. The chaos has allowed ISIS to thrive. ISIS fighters have taken over many government buildings. ISIS has been fairly active as of late killing 21 Christians and attacking a hotel. 

My Comment:
The toehold in Libya for ISIS is greatly expanding. That is of course bad news. ISIS is taking advantage of the utter chaos that is Libya right now. This is exactly what they did in Syria and Iraq. Both sides of the Libya conflict need to put aside their differences and fight ISIS. ISIS is a much bigger threat to them then they are to each other. But given the amount of bad blood between the two groups I don't see them working together. 

I also don't see any foreign government taking on ISIS either. Even though Libya is fairly close to Europe itself, nobody in the region is willing commit forces. Of course the western governments are largely responsible for the situation in Libya. When they got rid of Qaddafi they didn't do anything to ensure that his replacement would create a stable government. When the government collapsed into fighting factions, nobody wanted to take responsibility for the chaos that erupted. ISIS thrives on chaos so it is not surprising that they showed up in Libya like they did in Syria, Iraq and even Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.  

I'm hoping that the rumors that ISIS has captured western medical personnel are false. If it is true, given ISIS's treatment of westerners in the past, I would not hold out much hope of them being released safely. It begs the question, what are those aid workers still doing near the front lines of Libya? I understand that people in a war zone need the most help, but with ISIS fighters running around isn't it too much of a risk? My guess is the people that go to help people don't care about the risk. That is admirable but it does indirectly help ISIS. After all, making horrifying propaganda is a lot harder if they don't have anyone to execute other then the locals. 

Vladimir Putin was willing to put his nuclear forces on alert over Crimea. Yahoo/AFP

Crimeans celebrate after the vote to join Russia. Yahoo/AFP

In a new documentary released in Russia, President Vladimir Putin admitted to being prepared to put his nuclear forces on alert over the Crimean crisis. Yahoo/AFP. Putin was deeply involved in the crisis and warned the United States and other countries how important Crimea was to Russia. Putin was unsure if the West was willing to wage war over Crimea so he was prepared to put his nuclear forces on alert. The documentary, called Homeward Bound, had other revelations as well. Vladimir Putin claimed that he saved former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych from an assassination attempt. He also detained the military operation to annex Crimea. Special forces, marines and paratroopers were all deployed to isolate Ukrainian troops and a high tech missile system, the Bastion coastal defense missiles, were deployed to deter the U.S. Navy. Putin placed the blame for the situation squarely on the shoulders of Ukraine's "nationalists" with "extreme beliefs". Putin has been out of the public eye for the last ten days before appearing on television this morning. 

My Comment:
This documentary is obvious Russian propaganda, so we should take everything it says with a grain of salt. Still, I tend to belief most of what was said in this article. Crimea has always been an important part of Russia and I am sure that Putin felt like this was a defensive action. Though Crimea belonged to Ukraine, it was for all intents and purposes still Russian, with most of the people there speaking the language. I am not at all surprised that Putin was willing to go to war to protect it/take it. The Western leaders were not, and for very good reason. In the long run, whatever negative consequences for Russia annexing Crimea would not outweigh the consequences of a war that could go nuclear. Even a conventional conflict would have been devastating

Some of the report was just confirming things I knew already. For example Russia was deeply involved in the annexation of Crimea from the start. This was common knowledge even at the time, but it is new that Russia is admitting it so readily. The fact that Putin deployed Bastion missiles is news to me though. And it is very big news because those missiles would have been a huge threat to the U.S. Navy and other allies in the area. Again, this is more evidence that Russia really wanted to take and keep Crimea. 

I also think that Putin is right about the nature of the Ukrainian revolution. Some of the protesters were very, very far to the right. So far to the right that the left-right dynamic breaks down and you start to get into outright fascism. Indeed, some of the Ukrainian militias are Nazis in all but name. They aren't a majority and it would be wrong to call the whole revolution fascist, but there are definitely some fascist elements to the revolution. 

As far as Vladimir Putin himself, it has been amusing to read all the various conspiracy theories about his brief media absence. Social media and various message boards were working themselves into a frenzy about his status. Here are some of the better theories I heard:
-Putin was of the radar because he had a secret love child with his mistress
-The military was in the middle of a coup and had disposed Putin
-Putin was dead
-Putin was alive and plotting World War III and would announce that he was pushing the button to launch the nukes this morning (thankfully that one didn't come true!)
-Putin had gone on a week long bender (even the mainstream media implied this one!)

This morning I heard a new one:
-Putin died and the guy that was on TV was his body double replacement.

My guess is that he was just sick with the flu or something. Not as exciting as the other options, but much more realistic!