Islamic Militants in Mali Tied to Drug Cartels

By McCarton Ackerman 01/16/13

The war in Mali will impact drug traffickers and users far beyond its borders.

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French troops entered Mali today.

French troops entered Mali today, launching their first ground operations against al-Qaeda-linked rebels who have taken control of much of the country. Over the past several months, the domination of Northern Mali by these Islamic militants has facilitated a free flow of drugs and weapons across northern Africa. But Latin American drug cartels have reportedly been exploiting weak governments in the region for nearly a decade, linking with militant Islamic groups to profit from the trafficking of drugs and arms, or kidnapping tourists for huge ransoms. There are three main Islamic militant groups in Mali, but they don't share the same interests or goals; only one, the MUJWA, is said to have strong ties to the international drug trade. "The groups are still struggling amongst themselves," says Jennifer Cooke, director of the Africa Program for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "They're all kind of opportunistic, all have their own personal ambitions." Even with the help of French military clout, the western part of the country faces a daunting struggle to free the northern part from the militants. "No central government has ever controlled the hinterland," says Bruce Whitehouse, an anthropology professor and Africa expert at Lehigh University. "Whatever happens, it's gonna face a long-running insurgency up there."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.