Monday, February 15, 2010

British troops destroy Taliban bomb making factories

Thomas Harding, The Telegraph

British troops have destroyed a Taliban bomb-making ring after seizing three arms factories in an operation that is likely to have saved scores of soldiers’ lives.

Explosives for more than 100 Improvised Explosive Devices have been seized in what commanders describe as a significant set-back to the insurgents bombing campaign that has claimed the lives of about 80 per cent of British casualties in Helmand over the last two years.

The haul was found on the second day of Operation Moshtarak as British troops methodically pushed through Showal, getting to the northern tip where the white flag of the Taliban still flies atop of a disused crane.
For the last two years the town has been under the control of insurgents who have used it as a staging post to build bombs and train their fighters to plant them.

Showal has almost fallen without a shot being fired and yesterday it became the focus of national Afghan media and international press when two helicopter loads of Kabul journalists and international press descended on the town. They heard the district governor, who arrived with British commanders, preach security and peace to the local elders gathered in a well-kept mosque where they were told to ensure their sons were put to work in the fields rather than allowed to fight for the Taliban.

The task will be difficult although not insurmountable. Clearly the Taliban’s anti-Western propaganda has poisoned some minds with stares of undisguised hatred directed from some young men. But the younger generation, for now, appear to be unaffected, with children happily accepting sweets and pens from soldiers and interacting with the new-comers, particularly the Afghan army.

For the moment Showal appears to have accepted the force of 300 soldiers who have taken over two large compounds in the southern end of the town. But commanders know that if they are to win over the population they have to secure them from Taliban repercussions and swiftly bring in reconstruction projects to prove they can improve people’s lives.

A big step in securing both civilian and military from the ever-present danger of IEDs came with factory raids.

The first base was discovered when the vast force of British, American and Afghan troops landed on Saturday in one of the biggest helicopter assault operations ever mounted.

A force of 15,000, including support troops, has descended on central Helmand to remove the substantial Taliban strongholds that had ruled the area and been used as hide-outs to strike at troops.

When soldiers of the 1st Bn The Royal Welsh swept up the eastern flank of the Taliban shadow capital of Showal they were approached by a local man in his mid-30s.

The Afghan had escaped from a four-day incarceration inside a Taliban “prison” after he was caught with his dog close to where the insurgents had planted an IED. They suspected him of working for Isaf (International Security Assistance Force) and fined him 15,000 Afghanis (£200), equivalent to a month’s wages.

The Afghan had also suffered at the hands of the Taliban after his brother had been publicly beheaded for voting in last year’s presidential election.

When British troops broke into the buildings they found a vast arsenal of bomb-making equipment.

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