Tuesday, June 9, 2009
By Thomas Harding, Defence Correspondent
British troops have made one of their biggest drug seizures in Afghanistan recovering more than £65 million in a raid on a massive Taliban drug factory.
In a helicopter borne strike 450 troops from The Black Watch accompanying 100 Afghan soldiers swooped on the drugs centre in Helmand.
A number of Taliban were killed during the night attack in the Upper Sangin Valley and one British soldier was shot in the arm by an enemy sniper.
The operation has been hailed as a significant blow against the Taliban which uses the drugs trade to fund its insurgency.
After an initial firefight, in which the Taliban sniper hit a British soldier, the troops broke into compounds where they found 5,500 kilograms of opium paste which would have a street value in Britain of £55 million. They also discovered 100kg of heroin worth £5 million, 220kg of morphine and 148kg of cannabis.
The drug manufacturers were also armed with eight AK47 guns, three pistols and almost 1000 rounds of ammunition.
"This represents a significant setback for the insurgency in Helmand Province," said Lt Col Stephen Cartwright, commanding officer of The Black Watch, 3rd Bn The Royal Regiment of Scotland.
"The link between the insurgents and the narcotics industry is proven as militants use the money derived from the drug trade as a principle source of funding to arm themselves with weapons and conduct their campaign of intimidation and violence. By destroying this opium and the drug making facilities we are directly target their fighting capability."
The troops had to battle through fierce defence from the Taliban firing rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns as they landed late at night
"The toughest acts of being an infantry soldier were tested in the op – dealing with a casualty, locating and fixing and enemy sniper and having the guts to cross open ground under fire. It was a test and we passed. Corporal Paul Innes said:"
The enemy was less than 80 metres away when the troops landed. "You could hear them talking and the rounds landing as soon as the helicopter left," one soldier said.