Does Patrick Mercer think the Taliban’s HIV bombs will work?

There’s something fishy about this story. In case you haven’t heard and the above title is confusing you, let me fill you in.

What?

Reported in The Sun this morning, and everywhere else this afternoon as the world’s churnalists fell on the story, was an interesting development from Helmand Province (Hat Tip Septicisle at The Sun Lies).

The Taliban are reportedly placing HIV infected needles atop their improvised explosive devices. These are reported to become “deadly flying shrapnel” once the bombs go off, spreading HIV.

Who?

Patrick Mercer is the man  “that continued to work with the discredited Glen Jenvey for 2 months after he had sold the “TERROR TARGET SUGAR” story to the paper, a report which he had entirely concocted himself after posting on the Ummah.com web forum.”

He is allegedly an authority on terrorism but his conduct, as documented by Tim Ireland et al., has been less than recommendatory.

How?

The statistics on the prevalence of HIV in Afghanistan are sparse to say the least. However, as long ago as 2005 reports were warning that the country was increasing danger of widespread infections.

As one of the world’s premier poppy growing, opium producing and heroin refining sites, Afghanistan has a significant intravenous drug problem. This problem and the countries poverty have led to an outbreak of HIV which this Lancet paper discusses in more detail.

The Taliban are presumably acquiring these needles and using them in bombs.

Why?

This is the important question. Why? Not necessarily why Patrick Mercer was passed this information but why this information ended up reported as it has been.

There is almost zero chance of these bombs “working” in the manner implied. There is a large chance of these bombs killing someone because IEDs have a horrific record in Afghanistan, but the chance of someone contracting HIV is negligible.

HIV is scary, but the HIV virus it dreadful at surviving outside of the body. If you leave some HIV containing fluid on a table and it dries, the virus dies in the time it takes to dry. Of course do the same with fluid in a hypodermic needle and it takes a  little longer, as the needle prevents evaporation, but we are still talking less than a few days. In the arid heat of Afghanistan less still.

If that wasn’t enough, this fragile virus has to undergo the tremendous force and heat of an explosive that can punch through armoured vehicles.

The danger to soldiers seems utterly minimal; the logistics of assembling  these devices mean they will be rare; the biology of the virus means they will be ineffective. The Taliban are troglodytes, but not in the metaphorical sense of being uneducated, many of them know everything describes thus far; if these bombs exist, they know they won’t work.

So, why publicise this story?

The sole effect seems to be to imbibe the Taliban with an even more satanic glow and to terrorise and demoralise our troops. The sole strategic advantage of this weapon is as a method of intimidation, the battle field advantage gained is as negligible as either these bombs existing or for them actually working.

Patrick Mercer has scored a fantastic propaganda coup for the Taliban and a tremendous ego boost for himself. I hope he pats himself on the back tonight for a job well done.

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Climate Change Denier: Nice summer we’ve been having…

Me: …except if you’re concerned about Arctic Sea Ice. Its been significantly below trend for this time of year. One small piece of evidence for the existence of climate change.

N_stddev_timeseries.png 1050ո40 pixels

CCD: Come on old boy! Its not that far off the 1979-2000 average. I don’t think its really worthy of worry! In fact, a lot of sea ice extent is determined by the wind! Its being blown about. Damn unfortunate for those polar bears, but nothing worthy of worry.

Me: I see. Just the wind? A one off? I’m sorry, but could I direct you towards this graph? But, I’m really glad to see you want to engage in good faith.

https://i2.wp.com/www.skepticalscience.com/pics/abraham_arctic4.gif

CCD: [Ponders a discussion in good faith…] Its been faked! They’ve hid the decline! No… they’ve faked the decline! Its the tree rings donchaknow!

repeat ad nauseam

[Hat tip Giles Wilkes for the pointer]