Sep 30

Aid agency withdrew Pakistan staff after CIA fake vaccination scheme

Save the Children, which was not linked to the scheme, flew workers out of the country after US warnings about their safety

Declan Walsh

Bin Laden's Abbottabad compound

The compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden was killed after the CIA ran a fake vaccination programme in the town. Photograph: Akhtar Soomro/Reuters

Fears that a fake CIA vaccination scheme created to hunt Osama bin Laden has compromised the operations of aid agencies in Pakistan have intensified after it emerged that a major NGO was forced to evacuate its staff following warnings about their security.

Save the Children flew eight expatriate aid workers out of Pakistan in late July after receiving a warning from US officials at the Peshawar consulate. Two senior local staff were moved into five-star hotels in Islamabad.

Western and Pakistani officials say there were fears that Save the Children staff could be picked up by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) over alleged links to Dr Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor at the heart of the covert CIA vaccination scheme that helped locate Bin Laden.

Save the Children vehemently denies any links to the CIA scheme, which the Guardian first reported in July, and said it was the victim of a broader crackdown on aid agencies in Pakistan caused by CIA tactics.

“Dr Afridi never worked for Save the Children and his alleged activities were not in any way connected with us. We did not have a vaccination programme in Abbottabad,” said a spokeswoman, Ishbel Matheson, in London.

The charity did have a passing connection with Afridi, however, which may explain the ISI scrutiny of its activities. Afridi participated in two health-worker training courses run by Save the Children in 2008 and 2010, Matheson confirmed. Pakistan’s ministry of health nominated him for participation, she added.


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