Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Crackdown on Afghan poppy farmers

A British soldier briefs Afghan police officers after the arrest of five suspected poppy famers (AP)

Five suspected poppy farmers have been arrested in Helmand province in a joint operation between British troops and Afghan policemen.

The officers also managed to deflect an attack from a group of suspected insurgents after they entered the village of Noorzai at first light with soldiers from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and 2nd Battalion the Royal Welsh.

The group had been in the area only for a shura - a public meeting - to address concerns surrounding Taliban intimidation and activity in the region.

Captain Tom Mobbs, a Royal Marine officer attached to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, said: "It was great to see the Afghan National Police (ANP) acting as the face of governance and enforcing the rule of law in these remote areas.

"The locals welcomed the opportunity to talk directly to the ANP commander and his officers and were clearly relaxed about voicing their issues and concerns - a vital state of affairs if the Taliban shadow governance is to continue to be marginalised. The fact that the Taliban were watching the patrol's movements and didn't engage is an excellent indicator of the ANP's ability to move, at will, through these contested spaces."

The squad of 35 ANP officers, based at the recently-opened "Checkpoint Schoolhouse" police station in Lashkar Gah district, and 35 soldiers from the Scottish and Welsh regiments, based at the adjacent Patrol Base Attal, visited the village on Monday.

They called people together using the speaker system at the central mosque, which gave local police commander Colonel Sattar an opportunity to propose solutions to local problems.

Young men were urged to join the ANP and enrol at the Helmand Police Training Centre to protect their villages.

Information from local people at the shura led to five arrests by the ANP for illegal poppy farming.

As the operation concluded, a group of insurgents were spotted preparing to attack. But a show of force from the police ensured their rapid retreat.

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