France’s intervention in northern Mali against Islamist extremists has disrupted the supply of cocaine to Europe, reported Middle East Online. In January, France sent in troops to combat al-Qaeda linked extremists who controlled the northern swathe of the country for nine months and were threatening to extend their reach southwards towards the capital Bamako.
Extremist groups have long engaged in the lucrative drug running business as a means to secure funding. A common practice was to levy taxes upon smugglers running drugs sourced in Latin America, via Mali, to feed Europe’s growing market.
The lack of any real government or police presence in the north of Mali facilitated the drug-trade.
Typically, drugs are shipped to the Gulf of Guinea or flown directly in from Venezuela into Mauritania or Mali where they are stored and eventually transported to the Mediterranean’s southern shores.
This route is commonly referred to as “Highway 10,” in reference to the line of latitude which cuts through Columbia, Venezuela, Guinea and Nigeria; the 10th parallel.
The U.N.’s office on Drugs and Crime released a recent report that stated around 10 percent of the 172 tons of pure cocaine that found its way to Europe in 2010, transited through West Africa.
France’s military intervention in Mali has “totally disrupted the trafficking of drugs, weapons and migrants in the region, smashing up all the networks transiting through northern Mali,” French researcher Mathieu Guidere was quoted by Middle East Online as saying.
French special forces pressured some of the jihadist groups’ most remote bases, “this has sent everyone scurrying away but they are all trying to set up new routes,” Guidere said.
Alain Rodier, head of France’s CF2R intelligence research center, said regional smuggling networks had already been disturbed by Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia and Libya.
“Traffickers however are continuing their business by using other routes, which demonstrates their ability to adapt,” he said.
Smugglers have always adapted to new situations, said criminologist Xavier Raufer, who pointed out that the supply of cocaine from Latin America to Europe has never once broken in 40 years.
“You can never draw accurate maps of cocaine trafficking because the routes have already changed by the time the ink dries up,” he explained.