Responding to the increased use of Africa as a transshipment point for cocaine headed for burgeoning European markets, the government of the West African country of Guinea-Bissau announced last week it would shoot down any aircraft that enters its airspace without permission.
According to a report from Reuters, the threat came from Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Batista Tagme Na Wai, who promised a "crusade" against drug trafficking in the tiny, impoverished nation on the Atlantic Coast. "We will shoot down every plane that tries to violate our air space without previous permission from the authorities," Na Wai said. He added stores of aircraft fuel used by drugs smugglers had been found and seized.
Authorities in Guinea-Bissau say local police have repeatedly seized shipments of Colombian cocaine flown in small planes from Latin America to remote airstrips in the bush. Traffickers then fly or ship the drugs out of the country and on to Europe.
The government of Guinea-Bissau has faced international criticism for not doing enough to fight cocaine trafficking, but it has responded that it lacks equipment and technology and has demanded more foreign aid. While the shoot-down threats may please the international community, they may be only bluster. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, while the country's military is listed as having SAM SA-7 ground-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft guns, it is not clear that any of those weapons are operational.
The US government has supported the shooting down of suspected drug planes in Latin America, except for an embarrassed hiatus after Peruvian Air Force fighters shot down a plane carrying American missionaries over the Amazon in 2001, killing a US woman and her daughter. But that hiatus is now over, and the danger that the shoot-downs pose to public safety has hence returned.