Afghanistan — ‘Eyes in sky’ aid in largest drug bust in history

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — Opi­um pop­py grows abun­dant in the fields of Afghanistan and the har­vest­ing of this plant in the spring helps fund ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions all year. How­ev­er, this year, with the help of “eyes in the sky,” U.S. troops on the ground along with their Afghan coun­ter­parts were able to put a hole in the insur­gents’ pock­ets.

Large quan­ti­ties of opi­um recov­ered dur­ing a recent Afghan Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Forces-led counter-nar­cotics oper­a­tion in the Mar­jeh dis­trict of Hel­mand province, Afghanistan. The total amount of sus­pect­ed nar­cotics col­lect­ed is esti­mat­ed to be worth about $2.5 — 3 mil­lion. The his­to­ry-mak­ing raid was suc­cess­ful in part by intel­li­gence col­lect­ed by Marine Unmanned Aer­i­al Vehi­cle Squadron‑1, 3rd Marine Air­craft Wing (Fwd).
Source: NATO
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Marine Unmanned Aer­i­al Vehi­cle Squadron‑1, based out of Twen­ty­nine Palms, Calif., pro­vid­ed Afghan Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Forces with intel­li­gence col­lect­ed by UAVs. A recent counter-nar­cotics oper­a­tion in the Mar­jeh dis­trict of Hel­mand province, Afghanistan turned out to be the ‘gold­en egg’ ground forces had predicted. 

Ear­li­er this month, the ANSF’s Nar­cotics Inter­dic­tion Unit (equiv­a­lent to the U.S. Drug Enforce­ment Agency), in con­junc­tion with 2nd Bat­tal­ion, 9th Marine Reg­i­ment deployed from Camp Leje­une, N.C., con­duct­ed a raid in Mar­jeh. The team recov­ered three AK-47s with mag­a­zines, a 9 mm pis­tol with mag­a­zines, and signs of poten­tial impro­vised explo­sive device-mak­ing mate­ri­als. But the most impor­tant stash was buried deep underground. 

“The raid result­ed in approx­i­mate­ly 4,000 pounds of sus­pect­ed nar­cotics (the equiv­a­lent of $2.5 — 3 mil­lion) being removed from the bat­tle­field,” said 2/9’s air offi­cer, Capt. Joseph Quirk, a Coop­er City, Fla. native. “This was the biggest drug bust in ANSF Nation­al Inter­dic­tion Unit history.” 

Capt. Quirk said the suc­cess of the raid will have a pow­er­ful impact. 

“The amount of mon­ey lost by the insur­gency will sig­nif­i­cant­ly affect the insur­gents’ capa­bil­i­ties and resources for the spring offen­sive sav­ing ANSF and Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force lives.” 

This raid would not have been as suc­cess­ful had it not been for the sup­port and team­work pro­vid­ed by the unmanned aer­i­al vehi­cles belong­ing to VMU‑1, deployed to Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan. 

“What’s espe­cial­ly ful­fill­ing for us is we have been sup­port­ing [the ANSF NIU’s] oper­a­tions for months and that infor­ma­tion helped shape the oper­a­tion before­hand,” said Lt. Col. John Bar­ran­co, VMU‑1’s Com­mand­ing Offi­cer, and Boston, Mass. native. “This oper­a­tion not only demon­strat­ed our abil­i­ty to work as a Marine Air Ground Task Force and with coali­tion part­ners, but was also anoth­er step for­ward for manned and unmanned avi­a­tion inte­gra­tion with­in the Air Com­bat Ele­ment.” Capt. Quirk con­firmed that to date, 3rd Marine Air­craft Wing’s sup­port of this oper­a­tion has cur­rent­ly led to approx­i­mate­ly 5,000 pounds of sus­pect­ed nar­cotics being removed from the battlefield. 

Allied Com­mand Oper­a­tions

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