The instruction to camouflage cars is one of 22 tips on how to avoid drones, listed on a document left behind by the Islamists as they fled northern Mali from a French military intervention last month. A Xeroxed copy of the document, which was first published on a jihadist forum two years ago, was found by The Associated Press in a manila envelope on the floor of a building here occupied by fighters of the Islamic Maghreb.
The tipsheet reflects how they anticipated a military intervention that would make use of drones, as the battleground in the war on terror worldwide is shifting from boots on the ground to unmanned planes in the air. The presence of the document in Mali, first authored by a Yemeni, also shows the coordination between fighters, which security experts have called a source of increasing concern.
“This new document... shows we are no longer dealing with an isolated local problem, but with an enemy which is reaching across continents to share advice,” said Bruce Riedel, a 30-year veteran of the CIA, now the director of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution.
The tips in the document range from the broad (No. 7, hide from being directly or indirectly spotted, especially at night) to the specific (No 18, formation of fake gatherings, for example by using dolls and statues placed outside false ditches to mislead the enemy.) The use of the mats appears to be a West African twist on No. 3, which advises camouflaging the tops of cars and the roofs of buildings, possibly by spreading reflective glass.
While some of the tips are outdated or far-fetched, taken together, they suggest the Islamists in Mali are responding to the threat of drones with sound, common-sense advice that may help them to melt into the desert in between attacks, leaving barely a trace.
“These are not dumb techniques. It shows that they are acting pretty astutely,” said Col. Cedric Leighton, a 26-year-veteran of the United States Air Force, who helped set up the Predator drone program, which later tracked Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. “What it does is, it buys them a little bit more time — and in this conflict, time is key. And they will use it to move away from an area, from a bombing raid, and do it very quickly.”
The drone tipsheet, discovered in the regional tax department occupied by Abou Zeid, shows how familiar the fighters have 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 the fighters well realizes the advantages of drones: They are relatively cheap in terms of money and lives, alleviating “the pressure of American public opinion." They are already the future.