Huge drug haul in Aghanistan; 60 killed

KABUL: Troops killed 60 militants and seized their largest-ever drugs haul in a just-ended operation that smashed an insurgent hub in southern Afghanistan, the military said today.

The four-day operation was in Helmand province where a British soldier was killed in a separate incident on Friday, officials said.

The operation ended overnight when air strikes destroyed 92 tonnes of drugs and masses more heroin-processing chemicals and bomb-making materials collected in the sweep of Marja, southwest of the provincial capital Lashkar Gah.

“A total of 60 militants were eliminated as they mounted an ineffective and uncoordinated defence against friendly forces,” a joint US and Afghan military statement said, issuing a final tally.

The statement said the troops had also “seized the single-largest drug cache by Afghan-led forces in Afghanistan to date”.

They moved all “friendly elements” from a bazaar in the area at midnight on Friday, it said. “With the area cordoned off, precision air strikes destroyed the narcotics, bomb-making materials, weapons and munitions discovered during the operation,” it said.

“The air strikes targeted specific militant buildings used as command nodes and drug-making facilities in which attacks against Afghan and coalition forces were coordinated.”

Helmand, where thousands of British troops are based for a NATO-led military force helping Afghanistan, is the main producer of Afghan opium, which accounts for more than 90 percent of the world’s supply.

Most of it is turned into heroin and smuggled to markets in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

The vast province is also a stronghold for the Taliban, who were in government between 1996 and 2001 and are now waging an Al-Qaeda-linked insurgency.