The strategy of melting into the communities that house them and winning them over is one al-Qaida has already used successfully elsewhere, including in Afghanistan. It's now being perfected in Mali by a new generation of jihadists, with help from the terror network's veterans.
"They have seasoned al-Qaida fighters that have fought overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan and that are essentially providing coaching and training," said Rudolph Atallah, former director of counterterrorism for Africa at the Pentagon, who has led several defense missions to Mali.
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The room they used to stock their arms is now empty, except for a few cardboard boxes and a former ammunition crate. What they forgot to take was a notebook, where they started writing in the ledger from the back page to the front, as is customary in Arabic.
The first page of writing begins with an inventory of weapons: "One 60 mm mortar, One Toshka machine gun, Three machine guns, Four Dabekterbov machine guns without a magazine, One armored Bika, 16 Chinese Kalashnikov rifles without magazines, 21 Sardinia 23, 26 RPG shells ..." in a list that reads like the ingredients for a Soviet-era war.
Obama is going to have a hard time not committing U.S. forces to Mali in the next couple years. What ever he does we know he will screw it up.