The European Union is funding new efforts to combat Latin American cocaine trafficking in West Africa.
More than $20 million in European Union financing is uniting Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, Cape Verde, Guinea, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau to combat the trafficking of Latin American cocaine bound for Europe.
The EU's new "Dakar Initiative" is meant to fund interdiction measures announced two years ago.
Last November, a Boeing 727 from Venezuela landed in the desert of northern Mali with a shipment of cocaine. Drug enforcement officials say shipments are then broken up into smaller packages for smugglers to carry north across the Sahara through some areas controlled by an al-Qaida-affiliated terrorist group that is active in Mali, Niger, and Mauritania.
Other cocaine shipments from Latin America arrive on West Africa's coast where they are smuggled to Europe by sea. Nowhere is that destabilizing influence more pronounced than in Guinea Bissau where drug gangs use dirt airstrips on offshore islands.
Mahamane Toure directs political affairs for the regional Economic Community of West African States.
"The police, the justice system, and the prison system with the threat of the drugs have been almost reduced to nil [nothing]. They do not have any capacity. They need to be building capacity to have vehicles, telecommunications systems, to organize training to be able at least to tackle the issue of the drug barons who are roaming everywhere in the region now," Toure said.
As law enforcement officials pay closer attention to smuggling routes, some drug gangs are working to increase production inside West Africa.
Sa'id Djinnit heads the U.N. office for West Africa:
"Drug trafficking is still going on. And there are indications that now they are trying to establish themselves in the region to produce drugs in the sub-region. And also to encourage the consumption of the cheapest kinds of drugs in the sub-region," Djinnit said.
Law enforcement officials in Guinea last year uncovered seven storage sites for chemicals that could be used to refine narcotics. If those products were used to make the drug ecstasy, the United Nations says its market value would be more than $180 million.