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Along with the grass mats, the al-Qaida men in Mali made creative use of another natural resource to hide their cars: Mud.
Asse Ag Imahalit, a gardener at a building in Timbuktu, said he was at first puzzled to see that the fighters sleeping inside the compound sent for large bags of sugar every day. Then, he said, he observed them mixing the sugar with dirt, adding water and using the sticky mixture to "paint" their cars. Residents said the cars of the al-Qaida fighters are permanently covered in mud.
The drone tipsheet, discovered in the regional tax department occupied by Abou Zeid, shows how familiar al-Qaida has become with drone attacks, which have allowed the U.S. to take out senior leaders in the terrorist group without a messy ground battle. The preface and epilogue of the tipsheet make it clear that al-Qaida well realizes the advantages of drones: They are relatively cheap in terms of money and lives, alleviating "the pressure of American public opinion."
Ironically, the first drone attack on an al-Qaida figure in 2002 took out the head of the branch in Yemen — the same branch that authored the document found in Mali, according to Riedel. Drones began to be used in Iraq in 2006 and in Pakistan in 2007, but it wasn’t until 2009 that they became a hallmark of the war on terror, he said.
"Since we do not want to put boots on the ground in places like Mali, they are certain to be the way of the future," he said. "They are already the future."
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