American Forces Press Service
May 20, 2009 - Afghan army commandos, assisted by coalition forces, have killed 18 enemy fighters and confiscated significant arms and drug caches in the city of Marjeh in the Nad Ali district of Afghanistan's Helmand province yesterday and today, military officials reported. Heavy fighting ensued when the combined elements launched a multi-day operation to secure the city's Loy Cherah Bazaar yesterday. The bazaar is a militant stronghold and narcotics processing hub for southern Afghanistan, officials said.
After ensuring there were no civilians in the area, the combined force called for air strikes against known enemy fighting positions, killing a number of militants. Another three enemy fighters were killed when the combined elements observed them planting a bomb in a nearby road. Finally, two suicide bombers exploded as they tried to infiltrate the security perimeter. No one else was harmed.
During the operation, the combined force discovered several rifles, more than 2 pounds each of processed heroin and morphine, and more than 10 tons of black tar opium. The estimated value of the confiscated drugs is $750 million.
More than 90 percent of Afghanistan's opium crop is harvested in Helmand province, officials said. The majority of the drug crop is processed into black tar opium in Marjeh, then is smuggled out of the country for further refinement to the finished heroin product.
Half of militant funding comes from drug trafficking, officials added, noting that the seizure of the illicit drugs will greatly hinder the militants' ability to finance their activities.
The operation continues, as intelligence revealed that senior militant leaders have directed neighboring commanders to assemble fighters and reinforce the fighting in an effort to recapture the drug safe haven. Additional enemy forces from Pakistan also have been called upon to reinforce the ongoing battle, officials said. Helmand's governor broadcast a radio message today warning people to avoid going to the bazaar, stating that the militants care only for drugs, money and power, and that they would think nothing of harming innocent Afghans.
No Afghan commando, coalition force or civilian casualties have been reported.
In other news from Afghanistan, Afghan and coalition forces detained nine suspects in two separate operations in Afghanistan today, in addition to six detained yesterday.
In the Tere Zayi district of eastern Afghanistan's Khost province, Afghan and coalition forces detained five suspects early this morning during an operation designed to capture the leader of a bomb-making cell responsible for conducting attacks in the province.
In a separate operation in Helmand province's Nad Ali district, combined forces took fire from militants as they approached a village where four suspects were thought to be hiding. Coalition forces returned fire and called for air support to suppress the attack, which ended the engagement. Officials said it's too early to know how many militants may have been injured or killed during the encounter.
The forces questioned the men at the targeted compound, subsequently detaining four suspected militants without incident. They also removed two AK-47 assault rifles, two grenades and two chest racks.
In operations yesterday:
-- In Khost province, Afghan army commandos, assisted by coalition forces, were searching the home of a suspected militant when they received credible information from a local resident about a nearby roadside bomb. The commandos located and safely removed the bomb, then detained six men suspected of planting it.
-- Militants continued to attack NATO International Security Assistance Force personnel using white phosphorus munitions. In the Gayan district of Paktika province, insurgents conducted a mortar attack against an ISAF combat outpost with white phosphorus and high-explosive rounds. No injuries or damage were reported. Officials said two other cases of enemy white phosphorus use have been recorded in Regional Command East in the past week, following the May 11 declassification of 38 other instances of insurgent use of white phosphorus.
In May 16 operations:
-- ISAF troops in Bamiyan discovered a large cache that included nine 82 mm white phosphorus mortar rounds. The rounds were collected for destruction.
-- An ISAF unit located a white phosphorus 107 mm rocket near an ISAF forward operating base in Nangahar province's Kama district. The rocket, which had been aimed in the direction of the base, was safely disarmed.
(Compiled from U.S. Forces Afghanistan news releases.)