20110718 Mali arrests alleged al-Qaeda informants | مالي: اعتقال مُخبرين للقاعدة | Le Mali arrête des informateurs d'al-Qaida

West African forces are fighting Al Qaeda in West Africa, they face stiff resistance

Chocolate bars can do more to win wars than machine guns.

As their Middle East strongholds are besieged al-Qaeda branches have taken root in Mali.  Despite being vilified in the modern world as heinous terrorists the herdsman in Mali know them as neighborly philanthropists.  Armed patrols from al-Qaeda training camps regularly pass wells throughout the area and consistently make a sincere effort to ingratiate themselves with the locals.  The men make charitable donations to local herdsmen; children are given chocolate bars,the ill are given medicine free of charge, the injured are given food for free, and newborn babies get a fresh set of clothes.  All they take is water from the pumps, but it seems to the nomads that the Al-Qaida soldiers were not looking for water in the first place.

They were looking for trust.  They have found it in many of the increasingly loyal villagers.

Since the foundations of  the African arm of  Al-Qaeda, whom call themselves AQIM meaning Al-Qaeda Islamic Maghred, has expanded operations from Algeria into Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Chad, Senegal, and Nigeria.  The nomads in Mali are friendly with the terrorist group just as the Mali government is; Al-Qaeda and the ruling party have adapted a live and let live policy.  This has brought peace to Mali while paramilitary operations and abductions of Western nationals have challenged the surrounding nations.  Many new recruits to AQIM are from Mali, due to the successful hearts and minds campaign.  Since 2006 the number of jihadists has grown from an estimated one hundred to estimates around three hundred.  They are no longer alien foreigners to the region; AQIM is just part of the culture.

With only funds ransomed through kidnappings, Al-Qaeda has secured a foothold for the future on the loyalties of a region on a budget.  Meanwhile the $1.283 trillion dollar wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have brought about an unstable peace, punctuated with corrupt governments and suicide bombings.  Chocolate bars have bought a more stability than the world’s armies.

Hearts and minds campaigns are far more important to the future of warfare than any other method of influence.  The best wars are the ones that you never have to fight.  Al-Qaeda has learned to win over a populace using sincere intentions and token gifts.  Osama Bin Laden did it in Afghanistan and now AQIM is doing it in Africa.  They know how to win hearts and minds.  America does not.

My point is simple; rather than expanding our military budget the American government should be expanding its international aid budget.  A B-2 bomber costs 2.4 billion dollars to build.  It costs a mere twenty-five cents to feed a child in Africa for a day.  Rather than building one plane to drop bombs and kill people we could get 9.6 billion meals for the impoverished.

The costs  for one plane could feed the continent of Africa three meals a day for three days; I believe full stomachs of potential allies would do more damage to Al Qaeda than the most precise of bombs.  America must adapt to wars of the twenty-first century and must make a determined effort to win the hearts and minds of the international population in order to prevent outbreaks of terrorism abroad and here at home.