Black Watch clear bazaar of Taliban drugs and weapons

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    Black Watch clear bazaar of Taliban drugs and weapons
    United Kingdom - 9 October 2009

    Soldiers from The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, have seized 1.5 tons of hashish, including a block the size of a football, during an operation to clear a bazaar of insurgent equipment.

    The Lakari Bazaar is located in the Garmsir district in American-controlled southern Helmand province.

    Under the cover of darkness, the 315-strong force, which included an Afghan counter-narcotics team and US improvised explosive device (IED) experts, swooped into Lakari using US Marine Corps helicopters.

    They were supported by US Marine Corps Harrier jets and Cobra helicopter gunships as well as unmanned drones, which were co-ordinated by experienced fire controllers from 40 Regiment Royal Artillery (The Lowland Gunners).

    As dawn broke on the first day, the bazaar was completely isolated and 7 Platoon of Bravo Company started a methodical search of the western half of the bazaar where they found a catalogue of bomb-making equipment, from deadly pressure pads to the basic ingredients for making home-made explosives.

    The finds from the operation, codenamed Operation MAR ZAY, also included chemicals used to refine opium into heroin and large quantities of drugs; a key source of income for the insurgents.

    Private Tony Brownless from 7 Platoon said:

    "The finds on Op MAR ZAY were amazing. There was a block of hash the size of a football. After hours of searching countless shops, we opened one and there were multiple big bags of hash, ANA [Afghan National Army] combats and IED components.

    "The next shop had IEDs made and ready to plant, with other components to make them.

    "I'm in no doubt that finding all of this has undoubtedly saved the lives of numerous people and taking the drugs away from the Taliban has certainly reduced their ability to generate income."

    While 7 Platoon were searching the bazaar, the other two platoons in Bravo Company were forming a hard block to the west so that 7 Platoon could search safely.

    The local insurgents were clearly unimpressed with their stores being raided and kept up a steady stream of fire from the west.

    Snipers from Alpha (Grenadier) Company identified and killed a group of eight insurgents, brazenly carrying rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, approaching the British soldiers.

    Lance Corporal Martin Arnold said:

    "We saw a large group of young males walking along the canal towards B Company's position when we suddenly realised they were carrying rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns.

    "Even though they were 1,500 metres away we were able to prevent them from launching their attacks. It is not often we are able to make a pre-emptive strike and stop them from shooting at us first."

    Fire from the insurgents to the west was also growing, with 5 Platoon in contact for most of the day. An unmanned drone dropped a 500lb (227kg) bomb on the insurgent firing point but it took a Hellfire missile to finally silence the insurgents for good.

    Lieutenant Alex Phillips said:

    "The insurgents' fire got steadily more accurate as the operation progressed. Despite this, the Jocks performed with the calmness and professionalism that we have shown all tour.

    "Our firing was interspersed with the ever important engagement with local people. At one point we were talking to locals at the same time as fighting the insurgents!"

    Private Michael Collins added:

    "5 Platoon were initially tasked with blocking the western flank. It did not take long for the enemy to locate us and when they did they poured accurate fire into our position.

    "The enemy kept taking us on but we were quick to respond and gave back as good as we got, killing a number of enemy fighters."

    Insurgent fire continued for a second day while the soldiers searched and located explosives and IED components in the eastern half of the bazaar.

    All in all the mission uncovered machine gun ammunition, mortar ammunition, IED batteries, command wires, detonators and switches, and a large amount of drugs including 1.5 tons of hashish as well as multiple smaller finds of wet opium.

    The Battle Group spent a final day on the ground preparing to leave and setting the charges to blow up all the finds ensuring that nothing could be left for the insurgents to find and use.

    The insurgents continued to fire on the troops until two guided precision artillery rounds silenced them.

    Private Aaron Black said:

    "Even though we were expecting it the explosion was so huge it made us all jump! It's good to know all that stuff has been destroyed so the insurgents can't use it and the people can start using the bazaar again in safety."

    Captain Ewan Quin said of the whole operation:

    "The mortar, artillery and guided rocket support provided by the US Marines was excellent throughout.

    "Calling in fire support was straight forward but effective. It's reassuring to know that there is good interoperability between UK observers and the US Marines Fire Units.

    "We operated quickly and efficiently to engage an insurgent firing point killing a local Taliban commander.

    "As a Jocks Fire Support Team it is always a privilege to fire other nation's artillery and something not many of our Helmand-based colleagues have had the chance to do."

    While the operation had been running, American troops from the 2nd Battalion 8th Marines had been establishing a new base just over a mile (1.6km) to the north east.

    The lasting legacy of this operation is that the insurgents have lost all their equipment from the bazaar and US Marines will now be able to maintain their grip over this part of Helmand and keep squeezing. This will provide security to the local Afghan population and allow this economic hub to flourish.

    Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Cartwright, Commanding Officer of The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, said:

    "This was a key insurgent hot spot in southern Afghanistan and we have driven a wedge between the legitimate economic hub and the insurgent IED facilitators.

    "The long term effect of this will be maintained by the US Marines from the 2/8 Battalion 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 IEDs and insurgent violence.

    "It was a pleasure to work with our allies from the 2nd MEB [Marine Expeditionary Brigade] who provided all the support to ensure that the operation worked so well."


    Private Tony Brownless from 7 Platoon with a lump of hash found during a raid on Lakari Bazaar
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    Illegal uniforms found during the raid on Lakari Bazaar are burned
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    Source: U.K. Ministry of Defence
     
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