HAMPSHIRE soldiers have helped uncover a £17.5m drugs stash thought to be among one of the biggest seizures of its kind in Afghanistan.
Troops from the 1st Battalion, Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, discovered the massive haul during a specialist operation run by the Afghan police they are mentoring in Helmand Province.
They also found a significant weapons cache full of guns, rocket launchers and compartments to make roadside bombs designed to maim and kill international forces.
The find came as Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) swooped on the home of a local man suspected of selling off Government land illegally and found bags of wet opium – the first stage of processing poppy to make heroin.
But once inside the premises, soldiers from 1PWRR, nicknamed The Tigers, found a trapdoor that led them to a room filled with dozens more bags of the drugs.
The total haul weighed in at more than 175kg of wet opium which was found stashed in plastic bags.
One kilogramme of pure heroin is worth between £30,000 to £100,000 on British streets.
The team also recovered a large amount of weaponry used by insurgents to kill and maim international forces, including two machine guns, a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) launcher, several AK-47 rifles, two pistols, possible components for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), and imitation ANSF uniforms.
The discovery – a major coup for The Tigers – has been hailed “a victory”
and was made in the bustling town of Gereshk, in the northern part of Nahr-e Saraj district.
It was put on display for locals to observe.
The suspect was arrested and will nowface prosecution by the Afghan justice system.
The British advisors on the operation were part of the Police Mentoring and Advisory Group (PMAG), which is led by The Tigers who have a 15-man Police Advisory Team at each Afghan police headquarters across Task Force Helmand to mentor local police.
Lieutenant Paul Charlesworth, from 1 PWRR, commands the team at Gereshk.
The 24-year-old said: “Once we got to the compound we quickly realised this was a really significant find. We started to see all the weapons coming out, all the ammunition, the ANSF uniforms, and then the opium, and called in provincial-level counter-narcotics team.
“This is the largest drugs find that I’ve ever been involved in, and the biggest that ISAF forces have been involved in since we arrived in September.”
Capt Matt Swales, 28, of Locks Heath, said the discovery was an Afghan led operation that showed “a real step change in capability”.
The former pupil of St George’s school in Southampton, who is currently working in the PMAG operations office, said: “Since our arrival in September there has been a real appetite in the police to improve security in Helmand, and taking such a huge haul of drugs and weapons off the streets has helped in building their confidence.”
Tigers commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel James Coote, said: “This was a significant operation, both in terms of the weapons captured and the drugs seized.”
It’s the second major success for The Tigers since they deployed in October, left, having recovered a haul of bomb making equipment in October, just weeks into their deployment.