Wednesday, October 7, 2009
British troops seized 1.5 tons of cannabis resin during a three-day assault on an insurgent hotspot in Afghanistan. Hundreds of Black Watch soldiers surged into Lakari in southern Helmand Province under cover of darkness on a mission to clear a bazaar of drugs and ammunition. Two platoons engaged in battles with the insurgents, allowing another group to search the bazaar, where their finds included a block of cannabis the size of a football and components for making bombs.
The Scottish soldiers were supported by an Afghan counter-narcotics team and American bomb disposal experts, US Marine Corps Harrier jets, Cobra helicopter gunships and drones controlled by Scots gunners from 40 Regiment Royal Artillery.
Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Cartwright, The Black Watch commanding officer, said the operation’s impact would be felt throughout the area. “This was a key insurgent hotspot in southern Afghanistan and we have driven a wedge between the legitimate economic hub and the insurgent bomb facilitators,” he said.
“The long-term effect of this will be maintained by the US Marines who built an operating base to the north east of the bazaar. This will ensure that our gains are maintained and that the local Afghan population can once again exploit the economic potential of the area without the fear of explosive devices and insurgent violence.”
The mission from September 30 to October 2 began when the 315-strong force arrived in US Marine Corps helicopters under cover of darkness. The Lakari Bazaar was completely isolated and Seven Platoon of Bravo Company started a methodical search and found a catalogue of bomb-making equipment, chemicals used to refine opium into heroin and large quantities of drugs — a key source of income for the insurgents Private Tony Brownless, 22, from Inverness, of Seven Platoon, said the finds were “amazing”. He added: “I’m in no doubt that finding all of this has saved the lives of numerous people, and taking the drugs away from the Taliban has certainly reduced their ability to generate income.”
The two other platoons in Bravo Company kept the insurgents at bay, killing a group of eight who approached carrying rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns. An unmanned drone dropped a 500lb bomb on the insurgent firing point and a Hellfire missile finally silenced them.Among the items found were machine gun ammunition, mortar ammunition, improvised explosive device batteries, command wires, detonators and switches. Before leaving on the third day, the Battlegroup set charges to blow up all the finds.
While the operation was running, American troops from the 2nd Battalion 8th Marines were establishing a new base a mile to the north east.