Air Al Qaeda: Are Latin America's drug cartels giving Al Qaeda a lift?
There is growing concerns that Al Qaeda in Africa and Latin American drug cartels are working together. Latin American cocaine flights go to Africa, en route to Europe. Are Al Qaeda members on the empty planes back to Latin America?
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Yet, confronting the traffickers and the insurgents is precisely what the US military hopes these nations will do in the very near future. In the past two years, American military trainers have increased their visits to West Africa, and conducted joint training exercises under Operation Enduring Freedom – Trans-Sahel Initiative.Skip to next paragraph
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On land, US Army trainers – many of them Special Forces commandos – train African soldiers in counterinsurgency methods, and the US government has begun to provide the army of Mali, Niger, and Mauritania with basic arms and equipment, something these nations can ill-afford to buy on their own.
In addition, US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents have ramped up their efforts in West Africa, trying to help nations with weak law enforcement capabilities to rein in drug traffickers.
Last month, three suspects from Mali were extradited from Ghana to the United States to face charges of offering Al Qaeda protection to move cocaine from West Africa, through the Sahara, and up to Spain. The three suspects, Oumar Issa, Harouna Toure, and Idriss Abelrahman, told DEA informants that they were members of Al Qaeda’s North African branch, and they could protect drug shipments at a fee of $4,200 per kilo.
Given the scale of what drug traffickers are willing to pay – and what Al Qaeda apparently earns for its part of the business – the challenge of stopping the drug trade through West Africa will be immense, say analysts.
It is one thing for the US military to train a man to fight an insurgent. It is quite another thing to put that man out in the field, earning little pay, where drug traffickers or radical Islamists can offer them bribes or other incentives to look the other way when it suits them.
“These traffickers are shipping huge amounts of cocaine so they have lots of money,” says Depagne. “This is a huge threat for weak states of West Africa. When you compare the money of a drug cartel to the budget of Mauritania, or to the salary of a policeman in Niger – who receives less than $200 a month – it’s easy to see what will happen.”
As for Al Qaeda, “if they manage to get that kind of money, it will put them on another level,” says Depagne. “I don’t know if you can find any evidence proving a link between Al Qaeda and the drug traffickers, unless you are CIA. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why they would want to work together. To do terrorism, you need money, and what are you going to do in the deserts of Mali to make money. You take money where it is. You work with the drug traffickers.”