Author: By Jonathan Owen
Against a backdrop of questions over the war in Afghanistan, the Ministry of
Defence (MoD) last night attempted to explain the reasons behind the
operation that has led to so many British casualties.
Keen to focus on results rather than the body count, the MoD revealed how a
dramatic British night-time assault against a Taliban stronghold in Helmand
province has uncovered a large factory set to produce hundreds of kilograms
Six helicopters took 140 troops from the 3rd Battalion the Royal Regiment of
Scotland deep into enemy-held territory ? Babiji, north of Lashkar Gah.
Within hours the soldiers discovered a drugs factory with 750kg of a base
chemical used to create heroin and 5kg of a morphine derivative. Profits
from the heroin would have been used to buy weapons, according to the MoD.
Afghan police were brought in and the drugs were destroyed on the spot.
The past week since the drugs bust has seen the men of the 3 Scots fight their
way through what officials describe as “rugged terrain in the searing
heat” in the face of vehement opposition. On Friday, they linked up
with the Light Dragoons, who have been involved in heavy and prolonged
fighting over the past fortnight against what officials describe as
compounds “riddled” with Taliban fighters.
Details of the secret mission, part of the Panther’s Claw offensive, emerged
last night, two days after the death toll rose yet again. Rifleman Aminiasi
Toge was killed in an explosion while on a foot patrol near Gereshk on
Coalition forces aim to secure the area between Gereshk and Lashkar Gah and
restore confidence among local people in advance of next month’s
presidential elections. Another goal is to enable reconstruction and aid
projects to get under way in the region.
British soldiers have been greeted by locals, who have “increasing
confidence” in coalition forces, according to the MoD. Officials claim
stories are emerging of Taliban stealing entire food supplies. One
16-year-old boy told soldiers he had been tortured by the Taliban after they
caught him making a telephone call and accused him of being a spy.
Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, spokesman for Task Force Helmand, said: “The
insurgents have controlled this territory for some time, with thousands of
people living under their oppressive regime. The enemy are standing and
fighting back vehemently. It isn’t easy, and it won’t happen overnight, but
we are clearing the area and we are seeing locals, who had been living in
fear of the Taliban, starting to return.”
He said that reconstruction teams are moving into cleared areas and added: “It
is sometimes difficult to convey exactly what progress is being made. But
this operation is an important leap forward for the future of Helmand. We
are taking the fight to the enemy and we are winning.”
Some 3,000 British soldiers are involved in Panther’s Claw, and thousands of
US soldiers are conducting similar operations south of Lashkar Gah. Afghan
soldiers are also involved.
The offensive began last month, when hundreds of soldiers from the Black Watch
captured three crossing points along the Nahr-e-Burgha canal, 10 miles north
of Lashkar Gah, after an airborne assault. Afghan soldiers and police helped
to build a checkpoint there, called “Hadrian’s Wall”, in an
attempt to allow locals to return to the deserted bazaar and resume life
without fear of the Taliban. The Welsh Guards subsequently captured 13
crossing points over the Shamalan canal.
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