Weapons: March 10, 2005

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Money is a weapon of war that is not often talked about. In the war on terror, however, cash is often a more effective weapon than those that make loud noises. In Afghanistan, Iraq and throughout the world, there are many heavily armed groups that will take cash in return for information, protection or active participation in a fight.

In the opening days of the 2001 war in Afghanistan, it was cash (in the form of hundred dollar bills) that made the big difference. Afghan warlords could see only a few Special Forces troopers and CIA field agents, and that didnt impress them much. Then they were offered cash, up to a few hundred thousand dollars worth (depending on how many gunmen the warlord commanded). That was an offer Afghan warlords could understand. Some of them had made cash deals with the Taliban, and a few had even allowed themselves to be bought off by the Russians during the 1980s. 

Bribery is not unknown in the United States, but it is far more prevalent in those parts of the world where the war on terror is being fought. Saddam Hussein would regularly bribe those he could not terrorize or destroy. Al Qaeda understands the value of cash as a weapon. When Taliban control of Afghanistan evaporated in late 2001, it was cash, more than bullets, that got many al Qaeda leaders safely out of the country. Recently, the Pakistani army, after months of fighting tribes who were sheltering al Qaeda members, found a million dollars paid to tribal chiefs got them the cooperation that firepower alone was unable to extract. The chiefs said they needed the cash to pay al Qaeda back the bribes received to provide the terrorists sanctuary. Apparently there was a bidding war, and al Qaeda lost.

In Iraq, hundreds of ammo and weapons dumps were found. But the most useful munitions discovered was over a billion dollars in Saddams cash. Most of this was turned over to the American combat commanders, who used it to hire Iraqis for reconstruction, security and other jobs. Cash went to buy building materials, food and other items Iraqis were in need of. Many American commanders also began paying compensation to Iraqis who lost property, or lives, during American military operations. This was nothing new to Iraqis, even Saddam would sometimes pay compensation. Whoever paid it, got come cooperation in return. 

The terrorists in Iraq, especially those working for the Baath Party, were largely propelled by cash. As American troops got better at catching and killing these guys, the fees they demanded went up. The foreigners coming in to join the fight against the infidels were willing to work for free. But these guys didnt know the neighborhood, spoke with a foreign accent and often had no weapons training at all. Iraqis who had previously worked for Saddams security forces were most in demand, and could earn thousands of dollars for planting bombs and shooting at Iraqis and Americans. But whenever a paymaster was caught, and the supply of cash dried up, so did the number of attacks. American troops also paid for information, and the informant networks that have been built up over the last two years have become more and more effective. 

The mega-rewards for guys like bin Laden get a lot of attention, especially since the big cash offer has not worked so far. But the cash rewards have worked for many lesser people on the most-wanted list. Over a hundred million dollars in rewards has been paid out so far. The problem with the big rewards is that they are for people who are well protected. It often requires bribing or rewarding a lot of smaller fry before you can even get to the people who can give up the big guy. Then you have to negotiate. Its a tedious business. But in the end, he who has the biggest bag of cash wins.

 


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