The Taliban staging post, which also hid drugs to be sold to raise funds, was discovered by soldiers from B Company, The Royal Highland Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (2 SCOTS).
The soldiers were conducting a fighting patrol in the rural area of Babaji when they found the facility. Launching the patrol in the early hours of the morning, they were responding to suspicious activity previously noticed in the area.
Officer Commanding B Company, 2 SCOTS, Major Tristan Winfield, explained:
We were witnessing a lot of movement in that area for a few days, which got our attention because this area is largely uninhabited. Then, the day before the patrol, we saw a number of insurgents beating civilians. My immediate reaction was we needed to see what was really going on in there.
As the team approached the mud walls of the compound, they noticed, through a gap in the doorway, that a large a number of IED component parts littered the compound floor.
Less than a month ago, the same team was involved in the clearance operation of another compound in which 14 IEDs were pulled out of the ground.
The team moved in slowly, following their drills expertly to ensure that they identified a safe lane, and then stuck to it. It looked as if the insurgents had fled which for the 2 SCOTS troops at least meant they would not be forced to fight on unproven ground.
But the compound had a strange feel to it, most of the belongings having been thrown out of the rooms and the floor covered in suspicious items.
Team Leader, Captain Oli Bridle, said:
We knew immediately that the insurgents had been here at some point and that they had been handling IEDs here as well. The only question was ‘how big was this?’ From our mapping, we knew that this compound was joined to two more others, so we were all wondering what we were going to find in there.
The team continued to move forward, taking most of the day just to get inside and clear themselves a large enough area to ensure security. By then, however, they knew that if they were to go any further they were going to need more specialist assets. And, judging by the compound floor, they were also going to need to investigate all of the rooms and all of the items thoroughly.
In the end, the soldiers retrieved a significant amount of narcotics and associated paraphernalia, home-made explosives and a number of IED components.
Within hours, the team was joined by a Royal Engineers Search Team, a team of Royal Military Police and the battalion’s cultural advisor, Captain George Vlachonikolis, who advised on what was abnormal and out of place, to help in the effort to trace those responsible for amassing the suspicious items.
Captain Vlachonikolis said:
As soon as we hit the ground it was all hands on deck. There was so much stuff around the place that as soon as the engineers were giving us the all clear, we were right in there with our rubber gloves looking for evidence that could identify the individuals who had been firing at us only 48 hours earlier.
What we need to do now is to establish who the former owner of this compound was, before the Taliban took it over, and to help him settle back in; this is when we’ll really know that we’ve been successful.
Before leaving, having collected all their evidence, the team destroyed the firing points so that the Taliban could not use them again. Having removed the threat from these deadly explosive devices and components, the investigation now continues to track down the insurgents responsible.