Friday, December 4, 2009

RAF gunners seize Taliban weapons cache

East Anglian gunners have seized a hoard of almost 1,000 weapons from a Talban hiding place outside Kandahar in their biggest operation to date.

Men from 27 Squadron RAF Regiment, based at RAF Honington, carried out the mission near the southern Afghan city on Tuesday after intelligence was gathered from locals.

EDP reporter Ben Kendall and photographer Antony Kelly joined the 30-man B-flight, many from Norfolk, on the operation.

The weapons were found in an abandoned textile factory on the outskirts of the city. It is situated on Afghanistan's main supply route; insurgents regularly target the strategically important Highway Four.

Flt Lt Peter Hammond, patrol commander, said: “We received information that there were between 50 and 1,000 insurgent weapons being stored at the target.

“When we got there it was far closer to 1,000. They were in various states of repair but there is no doubt that many of them could have been used in attacks on our forces.

“It is part of our agreement with locals that if they give us information we will act on it to make the region a safer place for them to live and a safer place for our troops to do their job.”

The squadron regularly uncovers improvised explosive devices (IEDs) - an average of 12 each month - and other weapons but Flt Lt Hammond said this was the largest operation of their six-month tour.

The 15km journey to the site took more than an hour as the eight-vehicle convoy was forced to stop repeatedly to scan the road for bombs which may have been planted along the route.

Before entering the warehouse the flight, who were joined by American bomb specialists, checked there was no risk of booby traps or ambush.

Dog handler L/Cpl Adam 'Spike' Millikan and Springer Spaniel Jake, trained in detecting explosives, were the first to enter the building. Fortunately the raid passed without any confrontation.

Locals gathered around to watch the operation. Speaking through an interpreter, villager Torjaan said: “Things have been much better since these men have been in the province.

“I am pleased that they have been able to take these weapons away so that our village can live in peace.”

The squadron is currently responsible for policing 500 square kilometres to protect Kandahar airfield, home to some 20,000 coalition personnel.

They spend much of their time living beyond the wire in basic conditions - no running water and living off ration packs - on remote patrol bases.

But squadron members said their hard work was beginning to pay off as they see an improvement in the region's stability.

Sgt Andy Jones, from Watton, said: “There is a real threat from IEDs out there and also from rockets beyond the base perimeter.

“But we are detecting more and more. This means the base is secure, allowing coalition troops to do their job and, when we speak to locals, they seem to appreciate the difference we are making.”

Half of the guns were taken away to be examined and decommissioned while the other half were burned on-site.

The squadron of about 150 will return to Honington in January.

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