The Perfect Soldier: Special Operations, Commandos, and the Future of Us Warfare by James F. Dunnigan
What Speaks Louder Than Bullets?
by James Dunnigan
The war in Afghanistan featured two weapons that were most responsible for victory over the Taliban. The most visible weapon was the smart bomb, usually a one ton, GPS-guided weapon dropped from a B-52. The other widely used weapon was cash. Money. Defeating the enemy with a pile of greenbacks is often looked down on, but in Afghanistan it is often much more effective than bombs.
When the Special Forces and CIA agents went into Afghanistan in October of 2001, they already knew that, as the British had noted over a century ago, "Afghans can't be bought, but they can be rented." Even the Taliban had used bribes to defeat Northern Alliance warlords. Since there was no price list, and Afghan warlords knew the Americans had a lot more cash, there was a lot of negotiation involved. But for a few hundred thousand dollars, many warlords were willing to switch loyalty. Moreover, this was an ancient Afghan custom. A warlord became a leader of fighting men by having the resources to take care of his lads. That takes money, and the Americans had a lot more than the Taliban. Going into November and December, more pro-Taliban forces switched sides. This often happened even before a warlord's troops got hit with smart bombs. And a greedy warlord was sometimes led to lower his asking price after a close encounter with a one-ton bomb.
Money also was a very effective way to encourage existing Northern Alliance leaders to become more active on the battlefield. The prospect of foreign aid also influenced cooperation. Before September 11, the U.S. was planning only $2.9 million in aid to Afghanistan (largely as a bribe to encourage the Taliban to continue their ban on the drug trade). After September 11, authorized aid (for the Northern Alliance and their successors) went to $278 million. At this point, the major problem became figuring out how to distribute the money as widely as possible. Giving it to the new government likely would see a lot of it disappear into a few pockets, and then to foreign bank accounts.
There are many techniques for getting the money to as many Afghans as possible. One of the more popular is to hire lots of Afghans to do public works type jobs. Construction and repair of roads and utilities can be accomplished that way with a small number of trusted (often American) engineers and bookkeepers, and a lot of cash. At least you see what you're getting, and on a daily basis. And none of this money ends up in a Swiss bank account.
A lot more aid was spread around, over a billion dollars so far. Pakistan is now getting $673 million (up from $10.9 million). Aid to the other Central Asian nations went from $141 million to $263 million. Allies can't be bought, but they can be rented.
After all the major cities in Afghanistan fell to the Northern Alliance, there was still the hunt for al Qaeda members and Taliban leaders. Rather than use a lot of American troops for this, it was easier to hire a lot of Afghan gunmen to do the deed. "Gifts" of cash, food, medical care or even guns were given to those who provided information about the fleeing Taliban and al Qaeda. Warlords weren't the only ones willing to rent their guns. Afghans have served as mercenaries for centuries.
One unfortunate aspect of Afghan warriors is their lust for loot. When the battle is over, Afghans expect to be rewarded with loot. This means stripping the enemy dead and grabbing anything portable. This became a problem when Special Forces were searching for al Qaeda documents and other evidence of their terrorism operations. So the Special Forces did what the CIA has been doing for years: bought stuff back. The CIA is still buying back Stinger anti-aircraft missiles given to anti-Russian Afghans in the 1980s. Now we are buying back documents and laptop computers looted from al Qaeda caves and camps. It works.
And then there were the cash rewards for the capture of Taliban and al Qaeda leaders. Not just the promised total $50 million, but also the bonus items like green cards and a witness protection program, as needed. Reward programs have never been a sure thing, and depend, as this one does, on advertising. In addition to radio broadcasts and leaflet drops by American psychological warfare units, advertising is purchased in Pakistan and elsewhere.
Money also comes in handy when setting up an agent network. When bin Laden became a major target for U.S. intelligence agencies in the late 1990s, the CIA set up a network of agents in Afghanistan. From 1998 until late 2001, over a million dollars was spent to hire more than a dozen agents to try to keep track of bin Laden. Since then, a lot more has been spent to set up an even more extensive agent network. Not just in Afghanistan, but throughout the Moslem world and in places like Europe and Africa, where al Qaeda is known to have extensive operations.
Money talks in wartime, often with more accuracy and effect than bombs and bullets.
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