TIME Military

The Rescue That Wasn’t

Part of a damaged helicopter is seen lying near the compound where al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad
The tail of a downed Special Ops helicopter inside bin Laden's compound in Pakistan in 2011. The pilots who led that successful mission belonged to a unit created because of a failed rescue effort in Iran 31 years earlier. REUTERS

If you're waiting for perfect intelligence to guarantee success, you'll never launch a military rescue mission

The Pentagon spoiled Americans with its near-perfect grab of Osama bin Laden in May 2011. Save for a wrecked helicopter, Operation Neptune Spear went off without a hitch (assuming, as many Americans did, that taking bin Laden alive was never a top priority).

But the Navy SEALs drew to an inside straight that night in Abbottabad, Pakistan. All the practice in the world can’t trump bum intelligence. And the U.S. intelligence community’s estimates that bin Laden would be in the compound where he died ranged from 30 to 95%. If bin Laden hadn’t been there, the raid would have been deemed a failure, and would perhaps still be a secret.

The Pentagon only confirmed the failed July raid to rescue James Foley, whose murder was made public in a video released by Islamic militants on Tuesday, and several other U.S. hostages in Syria, after word began to leak out late Wednesday. “Unfortunately, the mission was not successful because the hostages were not present at the targeted location,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon’s top spokesman, said in a statement.

Such misses have happened before.

In 1970, 56 U.S. troops raided North Vietnam’s Son Tay prison camp to rescue the estimated 55 U.S. POWs believed to be there.

Technically, Operation Ivory Coast succeeded: the U.S., using more than 100 aircraft to support the operation, seized the camp. Unfortunately for the U.S., the North Vietnamese had moved the prisoners a day earlier due to North Vietnamese concerns that the camp was too close to a river that might flood. Two U.S. troops were injured during the mission.

Perhaps the most infamous rescue attempt since then was 1980’s Operation Eagle Claw, the aborted mission to bring home the 52 U.S. hostages held in Tehran after Iran seized the U.S. embassy there. They had been held for six months when President Carter ordered eight choppers on a risky two-night mission to rescue them. But sandstorms and mechanical woes grounded three of them on the first day, forcing the military to scrub the mission. As they withdrew, one of the helicopters hit a refueling plane at the Desert One staging site in the Iranian desert, killing eight U.S. troops.

The fiasco doomed any chance Carter had of winning a second term—Iran released the hostages shortly after Ronald Reagan took office—and led Congress to create the U.S. Special Operations Command to coordinate such efforts in the future. It also led the Army to create the Night Stalkers of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the unit whose pilots flew the Navy SEALs to bin Laden’s lair.

TIME Military

U.S. Launched Operation to Rescue ISIS Hostages, Pentagon Says

Journalist James Foley covers the civil war in Aleppo, Syria, in November 2012.
Journalist James Foley covers the civil war in Aleppo, Syria, in November 2012. Nicole Tung—AP

No hostages were found at the target location

Updated 9 p.m. ET

The United States launched a rescue operation this summer to free American hostages held in Syria by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the Department of Defense said Wednesday, but no hostages were found at the target location.

In a statement released a day after the Sunni extremist group released a graphic video showing the execution of American journalist James Foley, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. Kirby confirmed that American air and ground forces attempted a rescue to free a number of American hostages held by militants in Syria.

A U.S. government official confirmed Wednesday night that Foley was among the Americans the military attempted to rescue.

“This operation involved air and ground components and was focused on a particular captor network within [ISIS]. Unfortunately, the mission was not successful because the hostages were not present at the targeted location,” Kirby said. “As we have said repeatedly, the United States government is committed to the safety and well-being of its citizens, particularly those suffering in captivity. In this case, we put the best of the United States military in harms’ way to try and bring our citizens home.”

Lisa Monaco, the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, said Obama authorized the operation “because it was the national security team’s assessment that these hostages were in danger with each passing day in [ISIS] custody.”

The ground portion of the operation was carried out by U.S. special forces operators. Monaco said the government wouldn’t go into detail on the operation to protect “operational capabilities.”

“The United States government uses the full breadth of our military, intelligence and diplomatic capabilities to bring people home whenever we can,” Kirby said. “The United States will not tolerate the abduction of our people, and will work tirelessly to secure the safety of our citizens and to hold their captors accountable.”

In a statement to reporters Wednesday, Obama referenced the Americans still being held by ISIS. “We keep in our prayers those other Americans who are separated from their families. We will do everything that we can to protect our people and the timeless values that we stand for. “

TIME brazil

The Green Activist Who Might Become Brazil’s Next President

Brazilian Socialist Party presidential candidate Marina Silva attends a Mass for late presidential candidate Eduardo Campos at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Brasilia, Brazil, Aug. 19, 2014.
Brazilian Socialist Party presidential candidate Marina Silva attends a Mass for late presidential candidate Eduardo Campos at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Brasilia, Brazil on Aug. 19, 2014. Eraldo Peres—AP

Marina Silva is likely to shake up the country's presidential race after replacing the late Eduardo Campos as candidate for the Brazilian Socialist Party

No sooner had news broken of the small aircraft crash that killed presidential candidate Eduardo Campos than attention in Brazil turned to Marina Silva.

The late politician’s running mate, a former environment minister and third place finisher in the first round of voting in 2010’s presidential race, was the obvious choice to replace him as candidate for the Brazilian Socialist Party, PSB.

And yet Silva, whose nomination is expected to be confirmed by the party on Aug. 20., seemed almost reluctant to take Campos’ place. People who know Silva, a deeply religious evangelical Christian, say she is motivated by a sense of responsibility rather than raw ambition.

“She is very simple and true person, very correct. She says what she thinks. Although she is a political being, she is a very truthful being,” said Marília de Camargo Cesar, who wrote a 2010 biography of Silva.

Pollsters say Silva is now the politician most likely to pick up the previously undecided ‘protest vote’ that sent millions of Brazilians onto the streets in massed demonstrations in June last year.

On Monday, the first poll since Campos’s death gave Silva 21%, technically level (within the margin of error) with Aécio Neves, from the center-right Brazilian Social Democratic Party, PSDB, who had 20%. Neves had until then been the main threat to President Dilma Rousseff, up for re-election and polling at 36%. Rousseff’s Workers Party, PT, has run Brazil since 2003.

In one second round simulation, Silva had 47% to the president’s 43% – technically, neck and neck. Until Monday, Roussef had been expected to easily win re-election on Oct. 5. And now, the world is scrambling to find out more about the environmental activist who could yet be Brazil’s next president.

Maria Osmarina Marina Silva Vaz de Lima was born on Feb. 8 1958 in the tiny forest community of Breu Velho in Brazil’s remote Acre state, in the Amazon. Her parents had eleven children, three of whom died. She grew up among desperately poor, illiterate rubber tappers, dreamed of becoming a nun, and only learnt to read as a teenager.

Marina – as she is known in Brazil – lost her mother at 15 and has suffered constant health problems – she survived five malaria bouts, hepatitis and a heavy metal poisoning which was probably caused by treatment for leishmaniasis, a disease spread by sandflies. “She has been close to death so many times,” said Cesar.

Her humble background gives her impeccable credentials for the millions of lower income Brazilians who voted for Rousseff’s predecessor, mentor and fellow PT member, the charismatic Luiz Inácio da Silva, or Lula. Millions advanced to a new lower middle class during 12 years of PT rule.

Silva’s name was chanted by some of the 130,000 mourners who turned out for Eduardo Campos’s requiem and funeral on Sunday in Recife, capital of the northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco he ran as governor for eight years. Rousseff, Lula and Neves all attended.

A clearly emotional Silva, who almost joined Campos on the ill-fated plane journey, was highly visible throughout the service, and spent much of it hand in hand with Campos’s widow, Renata. Replacing Campos on the PSB ticket was not an easy decision for her, said João Paulo Capobianco, a biologist and former deputy minister to Silva at Brazil’s Environment Ministry, who was with Silva in Recife.

“She suffered a lot with this process,” he said. “She is aware of her responsibility. As it was the wish of everyone, of Eduardo, of the family, she ended up accepting.”

Silva’s political career began in environmental activism. A history graduate and adherent of left wing, Catholic ‘Liberation Theology’ Silva became active in the rubber tappers union alongside Chico Mendes, an iconic unionist and environmentalist who was murdered in 1988. Both participated in direct actions against deforestation. She joined the nascent PT, became a state deputy in 1990, and Brazil’s youngest-ever senator in 1994, at just 36.

As Lula’s Environment Minister from 2003-2008 she was behind a multi-ministry Action Plan to Prevent and Control Amazon Deforestation that led to a 57% decrease in just three years and which won her the Norwegian Sophie Prize for environment and sustainable development in 2009. Silva tried to set up her own Sustainability Network party to fight this election, and when that failed accepted a role as Campos’s running mate.

“She is a very objective person and very transparent in her ideas. And she has an enormous capacity to attract collaborators,” said Capobianco, who now runs the Institute of Democracy and Sustainability think-tank.

Although Neves, the center-right candidate, would be first choice for a Brazilian business community increasingly concerned by the country’s low growth and high inflation, Campos had won ground promising long-term inflation targets and an independent central bank. He also made friends with Brazil’s powerful agribusiness lobby, a key motor in the country’s stumbling economy. “What we have on record is actually pretty good from a market perspective,” said Volpon, head of Emerging Market Research Americas at the Nomura Bank in New York.

But “ruralists” distrust Silva and her sustainable development agenda. “Marina Silva has never been able to be clear about her sustainable development in relation to agricultural production. We do not understand how she plans to do this,” said Senator Kátia Abreu, expected to be re-elected president of the powerful National Agriculture and Livestock Confederation in October. “It is one thing to be an activist, another to be a president with a more realistic agenda.”

That distrust may be eased by the choice of Beto Albuquerque, a federal deputy with links to Brazil’s agribusiness, to be Silva’s running mate. Having a more business-friendly name on the ticket will free her up to run as a more populist, “third way” candidate.

And it’s that appearance of being something new, and different, that makes Silva a genuine threat to Roussoff in October’s election. Many in Brazil are looking for a leader who is something more than the cynical career politicians the country is sick of, according to Brazilian film director Fernando Meirelles, who directed City of God and The Constant Gardener.

“The big difference between Marina and the majority of politicians is that she puts her ideas and her program for the country in front of her political career or party interests,” he said.

TIME Iraq

Can Iraq’s New Prime Minister Keep the Sunnis on Side?

Iraq's new prime minister Haidar Al-Abadi in Bagdad, Aug. 16, 2014.
Iraq's new prime minister Haidar Al-Abadi in Bagdad, Aug. 16, 2014. Michael Kappeler—EPA

Haider Al-Abadi must regain the trust of Sunni politicians and tribal leaders if he's going to unite Iraq against the ISIS threat

Even this Iraqi refugee camp is divided by sect. Displaced Kurds shelter in a large warehouse here in Bahirka, the members of the Shia Shabak minority have their UN tents in a line outside and the Sunni Arabs are gathered by the back fence. There is even a corner for the seven Palestinian families that fled Mosul.

Ibrahim, who gave only his first name, is living in the back row of Sunni tents with his wife and four children.

“Of course I blame the Iraqi government for this,” said Ibrahim, who worked as a day laborer and rented a small apartment for his family in Mosul before they fled June 10. “During Prime Minister Maliki’s time, Mosul was like a fortress. There were check-points everywhere.”

This heavy security in Sunni areas like Mosul created resentment against the central government, as many felt the regions had been occupied by security forces loyal to then Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who announced he would step down from the premiership on Aug. 15.

Maliki fostered a sharp sectarian split in Iraq, parceling out resources and ministerial roles to his Shiite allies and alienating the Sunnis who populate much of the northern territory taken by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) earlier this summer. Having been estranged by Maliki’s government, the well-armed Sunni tribes of the Nineveh Province put up little resistance to the militants, allowing the group to expand quickly in the region. The militants now control one-third of Iraq and the organization is easily recruiting from the disenfranchised Sunni population. ISIS is believed to have enlisted thousands of new fighters in recent months.

“People don’t like ISIS, but they just hated al-Maliki. And ISIS was the only alternative,” said Ibrahim.

Now, there is a new alternative — Iraq’s new prime minister Haider al-Abadi, a veteran Shiite lawmaker also from al-Maliki’s Dawa Party. He has promised a more inclusive national government, and compromise with the Kurds. But to beat back the spread of ISIS, he’ll need to win over Sunnis bruised by years of Maliki’s leadership—not just the political leadership, but also the Sunni tribal chiefs.

“We are optimistic about participating in the new government,” says Hamed al-Mutlaq, a member of the Iraqi parliament and an influential Sunni politician. “But first we want a real change, not just a change of faces in the government.”

Real change, says al-Mutlaq, would mean ending the division of powers along sectarian lines, and a rebuilding of Iraq’s armed forces, which many say al-Maliki attempted to mould into his own personal militia. If these changes are met, he says, Sunnis might unite against ISIS. “We want safety and security in Iraq and want to get rid of ISIS, Al-Qaeda and the all the militias in Iraq.”

But while politicians are showing optimism, or at very least willingness, so far the Sunni tribes of the Nineveh Province have shown no signs of pivoting toward the central government from the leadership offered by ISIS — and some analysts are losing hope that they might. “The situation has reached such a level that I’m not sure it’s reversible. I’m not sure we can solve it,” says Maria Fantappie, an Iraq analyst with International Crisis Group.

Bringing tribal leaders back into the fold would require al-Abadi to decentralize authority from Baghdad to empower Sunni provincial leaders, said Fantappie. “But again, to tell you the truth, from the contacts I have with the Sunni tribes even this project is unlikely to succeed. Unfortunately, I think we reached the point where the ISIS project has become very attractive for many Sunnis,” says Fantappie.

Some, but not all. Maysar, a Sunni from Mosul living in the refugee camp in Bahirka, voiced worries that everyone who remained in the city will be accused of siding with ISIS when they are simply attempting to live under the new regime. The 35-year-old, who would only give his first name, says he was one of the few police who tried to fight back against the militants when they entered the city three months ago, and now feels like an outcast.

“When Haidar Al-Abadi chooses his government he must be very careful. He must deal very carefully with people of Mosul,” he says. Many in these areas are sitting quietly because they fear ISIS as long as the group remain in control, he says. “Yes, some people there are with ISIS. But he can’t just consider everyone who remains in Mosul to be a terrorist.”

TIME energy

Germans Happily Pay More for Renewable Energy. But Would Others?

Germany solar power
Germany has become a world leader in solar power Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Germany has embraced subsidies for renewable energy, but not every country is willing to bear the economic burden

This article originally appeared on OilPrice

While Germany is breaking world records for the amount of sustainable energy it uses every year, German energy customers are breaking European records for the amount they pay in monthly bills. Surprisingly, they don’t seem to mind.

In the first half of 2014, Germany drew 28 percent of its power generation from renewable energy sources. Wind and solar capacity were hugely boosted, now combining to generate 45 terawatt hours (TWh), or 17 percent of national demand, with another 11 percent coming from biomass and hydropower plants.

This proves that Germany’s controversial Energiewendepolicy is on target to meet highly ambitious goals by 2050 — as much as a 95 percent reduction in greenhouse gases, 60 percent of power generation from renewables, and a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency over 2010.

All well and good, but the economics of renewable energy don’t usually allow for such a smooth transition. As part of the Energiewende, the costs of associated subsidies have been passed on to German customers, who pay the highest power bills in Europe.

Fifty-two percent of the power bill for retail businesses in July 2014 is now made up of taxes and fees. The average bill for a household has reached 85 euros a month, 18 euros of which is the renewable energy levy. The reaction to such fees should have been furious.

It hasn’t been. A 2013 survey revealed that 84 percent of Germans would be happy to pay even more if the country could find a way to go 100 percent renewable.

So how can this model of high targets, high fees and high public support find traction in other countries? The answer is, with difficulty.

Germany’s national engagement toward renewable energy came after a period of prolonged public education, opening up to locally owned wind and solar infrastructure, and investment support. To be sure, other major countries are finding success in the renewable sphere, but not in quite the same way.

While renewable installations in the U.S. may account for 24 percent of the world’s total, they only accounted for 13 percent of the country’s power generation. This compares to Germany, which has more than 12 percent of global installed renewable capacity, but takes 28 percent of its power from it. Spain, China and Brazil trail behind, with 7.8 percent, 7.5 percent and 5 percent of global capacity respectively.

Brazil’s model has similarities to Germany’s, with the government carrying out public auctions for contracts and putting out favorable investment terms for foreign companies looking to set up renewable energy projects. Spain was doing well as wind became its largest source of power generation in April 2013, but economic woes have seen Madrid begin to double back on its commitments.

Political gridlock in Washington, D.C. means renewable energy in the U.S. has been boosted by state and private efforts. Arizona now has the biggest solar power plant in the world, while California has the largest geothermal plant in the country.

In Mexico, the country’s solar potential and the improving cost-effectiveness of PV technology has seen projects like the 30MW Aura Solar I crop up. But the national electricity regulator, CFE, has been slammed for taking up to six months to connect residential PV installations to the grid.

Perhaps the most ambitious plans come from China, which is busy working to transform its reputation from an energy pariah to a respected renewable leader. However, these are being mandated at a central level, with little to no attention being paid to the opinions of the Chinese public.

And there’s the rub. The German public is a willing participant in the government’s efforts, happy to face higher bills in exchange for a cleaner and more energy-efficient future, paying an average of 90 euros a month in 2013. It is true that Germans’ power bills are the highest in Europe, but the trade-off is known, increases are announced and negotiated months in advance, and surprises are few.

In the UK, which was proud of having among the lowest electricity rates in the EU, the government has been hard-pressed to explain to customers just why Scottish Power, Southern Electric, and British Gas have all raised prices, while the Labour Party has promised a 20-month price freeze if it wins 2015 elections.

The UK has left its coal and nuclear infrastructure to stagnate, reversed Blair-era commitments to renewable sources and opened vast swathes of the country to fracking exploration.

Ask them, and Germans might tell you that a pricey electricity bill might actually save everyone from a few headaches down the line.

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TIME Israel

Israeli Premier: ‘We Will Not Stop’ Gaza Operation

Smoke and fire after an Israeli air strikes over Gaza City, on 20 August 2014.
Smoke and fire after an Israeli air strikes over Gaza City, on 20 August 2014. Sameh Rahmi—NurPhoto/Corbis

(JERUSALEM) — Israel’s prime minister says he will press forward with a military operation in the Gaza Strip until rocket fire out of the Palestinian territory is halted.

Benjamin Netanyahu made the comments in a nationwide address Wednesday, a day after talks aimed at ending Israel’s monthlong war against Hamas militants collapsed in failure.

Netayahu’s tough words signal a protracted period of fighting could lie ahead.

Palestinian militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel on Wednesday, while Israel carried out numerous airstrikes in Gaza. Palestinian officials say at least 20 Palestinians have been killed since the cease-fire talks collapsed.

TIME Iraq

U.S. Officials: Military Mulling More Troops to Iraq

(WASHINGTON) — U.S. officials say military planners are weighing the possibility of sending more American forces to Iraq mainly to provide additional security around Baghdad.

A senior U.S. official says the number of troops currently under discussion would be fewer than 300, but there has been no final decision yet by Pentagon leaders.

The talks come as American fighter jets and drones conducted nearly a dozen airstrikes in Iraq since Tuesday when Islamic State militants threatened to kill a second American captive in retribution for any continued attacks.

A U.S. official says the strikes came in the hours after militants released a gruesome video Tuesday showing U.S. journalist James Foley being beheaded.

TIME Foreign Policy

Obama Says ‘Entire World Is Appalled’ By ISIS Beheading of Journalist

"No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day"

+ READ ARTICLE

President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the “entire world is appalled” by the death of American journalist James Foley, who was kidnapped in Syria more than 18 months ago and whose death was depicted in a video Tuesday.

The militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) posted the graphic video of the execution on Tuesday, calling it retribution for American airstrikes against Sunni extremist forces in Iraq. The U.S. intelligence community has authenticated the video, National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said.

“Today the entire world is appalled by the murder of journalist Jim Foley,” Obama said Wednesday in an emotional statement from Martha’s Vineyard.

Obama said the Middle East must work to “extract this cancer” that threatens the stability of Iraq and the region. “[ISIS] speaks for no religion,” Obama said. “Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim.”

“No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day,” he added.

Obama called Foley’s family on Wednesday morning to express his condolences on the loss of their son.

“Jim was taken from us in an act of violence that shocked the conscience of the entire world,” Obama said.

The video also includes a threat to kill Steven Sotloff, a freelance journalist who has written for TIME and other outlets, and has been missing since August 2013. “We keep in our prayers those other Americans who are separated from their families,” Obama said. “We will do everything that we can to protect our people and the timeless values that we stand for.”

Obama said the United States would continue its efforts to confront ISIS. “The United States of America will do what we must to protect our people,” he said. “We will be vigilant, and we will be relentless.”

A Facebook page affiliated with the Foley family’s campaign for his release posted a message Tuesday evening from his mother, Diane Foley.

“We have never been prouder of our son Jim,” she wrote. “He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people. …We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person. Please respect our privacy in the days ahead as we mourn and cherish Jim.”

Foley “was taken by an organized gang after departing from an internet café in Binesh, Syria,” near the Turkish border, the FBI said in an alert following the Nov. 22, 2012, kidnapping. He was in Binesh covering the Syrian civil war for the GlobalPost website and AFP.

Foley, 40, grew up in New Hampshire, where his parents live.

-Additional reporting by Mark Thompson.

TIME Infectious Disease

4 Injured in Violent Clashes as Liberians Storm Ebola Barricades

Liberia Battles Spreading Ebola Epidemic
A Liberian Army soldier, part of the Ebola Task Force, pushes back local residents while enforcing a quarantine on the West Point slum on August 20, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. John Moore—Getty Images

The clashes mark a deepening sense of mistrust at official responses to contain the Ebola outbreak

At least four people were injured in clashes with Liberian soldiers and police after the government laid barbed wire barricades around a densely populated slum in an attempt to contain the spread of Ebola.

Young men surged towards the barricades and hurled stones at troops, who responded by firing live rounds of ammunition, the New York Times reports. Agence France-Presse reports that at least four people were injured in the skirmish.

The unrest highlights a deepening sense of mistrust among residents of West Point, a district that government officials designated as a quarantine zone on Wednesday morning. Tensions flared in the area earlier in the week as the opening of an Ebola treatment clinic in a local school fueled fears that health officials were bringing in infected patients from other parts of the city. The clinic was ransacked on Saturday, enabling several quarantined patients to escape.

The death toll from suspected and confirmed cases of Ebola across west Africa climbed to 1,350 people, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

[NYT]

TIME ebola

Clashes in Liberia Slum Sealed Off to Halt Ebola

A Liberian Army soldier, part of the Ebola Task Force, beats a local resident while enforcing a quarantine on the West Point slum on Aug. 20, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia.
A Liberian Army soldier, part of the Ebola Task Force, beats a local resident while enforcing a quarantine on the West Point slum on Aug. 20, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. John Moore—Getty Images

Hundreds of residents of the West Point slum in Monrovia clashed with security forces

(MONROVIA, Liberia) — Hundreds of residents of a seaside slum in Liberia’s capital clashed with security forces Wednesday to protest an armed blockade of the peninsula that is their neighborhood as part of the government’s desperate efforts to stop the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

Protests began in the morning when roads into and out of West Point were blocked by riot police and troops and a coast guard boat patrolled the waters offshore.

When the local government representative, who had not slept at home, returned to get her family out, hundreds of people surrounded her house until police and soldiers packed her and her family into a car and hustled them away. Security forces fired into the air to disperse the crowd, and residents threw stones or whatever was at hand at them. At least one person was injured.

Deputy Police Chief Abraham Kromah said later Wednesday that forces managed to restore order in the area. He said the police were investigating whether any shots had been fired.

Fear and tension have been building in Monrovia for days, and West Point has been one of the flash points. West Point residents raided an Ebola screening center over the weekend, accusing officials of bringing sick people from all over Monrovia into their neighborhood. The move to seal off the densely populated, impoverished peninsula shows that the government is struggling to contain a deadly outbreak that is spreading faster in Liberia than anywhere else.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ordered West Point sealed off and imposed a nationwide curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

“We have been unable to control the spread” of Ebola, Sirleaf said in an address to the nation Tuesday night. She blamed the rising case toll on denial, defiance of authorities and cultural burial practices, in which bodies are handled. But many feel the government has not done enough to protect them from the spread of Ebola.

Family members of West Point district commissioner Miata Flowers flee the slum while being escorted by the Ebola Task Force on Aug. 20, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia.
Family members of West Point district commissioner Miata Flowers flee the slum while being escorted by the Ebola Task Force on Aug. 20, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. John Moore—Getty Images

The Ebola outbreak, which according to the World Health Organization began in December, has killed at least 1,229 people in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

On Wednesday, riot police and soldiers created roadblocks out of piles of scrap wood and barbed wire to prevent anyone from entering or leaving West Point, which occupies a half-mile-long (kilometer-long) peninsula where the Mesurado River meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Few roads go into the area and a major road runs along the base of the point, serving as a barrier between the neighborhood and the rest of Monrovia. Ferries to the area have been halted.

At least 50,000 people live in West Point, one of the poorest and most densely populated neighborhoods of the capital. Sanitation is poor even in the best of times and defecation in the streets and beaches is a major problem. Mistrust of authorities is rampant in this poorly served area, where many people live without electricity or access to clean water.

The community is in “disarray” following the arrival of forces on Wednesday morning, West Point resident, Richard Kieh, told The Associated Press by phone.

“Prices of things have been doubled here,” he said.

The Ebola outbreak has already touched other parts of the capital, where dead bodies have lain in the streets for hours, sometimes days, even though residents asked that they be picked up by Health Ministry workers.

Liberia has the highest death toll, and its number of cases is rising the fastest. Sirleaf also ordered gathering places like movie theaters and night clubs shut and cordoned off Dolo Town, 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of the capital.

While whole counties and districts in Sierra Leone and Liberia have been sealed off and internal travel restrictions have limited the movement of people in Guinea, the sealing off of West Point is the first time such restrictions have been put in place in a capital city in this outbreak.

The current Ebola outbreak is currently the most severe in Liberia and Sierra Leone, but the U.N. health agency said that there were encouraging signs that the tide was beginning to turn in Guinea. There is also hope that Nigeria has managed to contain the disease to about a dozen cases.

Nigeria’s health minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu, said Tuesday that a fifth person had died of the disease in that country. All of Nigeria’s reported cases so far have been people who had direct contact with a Liberian-American man who was already infected when he arrived in the country on an airliner.

___

Associated Press photographer Abbas Dulleh in Monrovia, Liberia, and writer Maram Mazen in Lagos, Nigeria, contributed to this report.

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