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Afghan police find huge opium stash in Helmand

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Afghan police mentored by British troops have discovered an opium stash worth millions of pounds, along with insurgent weapons, during an arrest operation in Helmand province.

Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) swooped on the address of a man suspected of illegally selling government-owned land in the bustling town of Gereshk, in the northern part of Nahr-e Saraj district.

Inside, the police and their British partners from 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (1 PWRR) found several bags of wet opium.

The Afghan counter-narcotics team were called in, and on further investigation the police found a room hidden under a trapdoor - with dozens more bags of the drug hidden away underneath.

The total haul weighed in at more than 175kg of wet opium - the first stage of processing poppy to make heroin.

The team also found two machine guns, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and several AK-47 rifles, along with two pistols, possible components for improvised explosive devices, and imitation ANSF uniforms.

The suspect will now face prosecution under the Afghan justice system.

The British advisors on the operation were part of the Police Mentoring and Advisory Group (PMAG), which is led by 1 PWRR. A 15-man Police Advisory Team works at each Afghan police headquarters across Task Force Helmand to mentor the police.

Lieutenant Paul Charlesworth, 1 PWRR, commands the advisory team at Gereshk. He 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 the 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.

Corporal Lucas Allan, of the Royal Military Police, was at the scene to help guide the Afghan police on gathering intelligence. He said:

We encourage them to try to do the job themselves, but with guidance on the correct way of carrying it out. We’re trying to emphasise the importance of evidence because that and witnesses are the two most vital parts to an investigation.

In this case the job was to make sure it was correctly separated and accounted for, not just at the scene, but for onward movement to other locations and for handover to relevant authorities.

Captain Stuart Barker, 3rd Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, said:

This is a victory for joined-up police work, because this single operation involved the PMAG, the specialist Police Advisory Team, the Afghan police, and the counter-narcotics police.

It shows how working together can produce a really significant find which demonstrates the clear connection between the drugs trade and violence and insecurity.

Lieutenant Colonel James Coote is the Commanding Officer of 1 PWRR and the PMAG. He said:

This was a significant operation, both in terms of the weapons captured and the drugs seized. It is important to note that this was an Afghan police operation from start to finish and it is further evidence of the police’s ability to operate and enforce the Afghan law.