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Afghan, Coalition Forces Destroy Taliban Heroin Lab

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 27, 2007 – Afghan and coalition forces teamed up to defeat a group of Taliban insurgents protecting a heroin laboratory in Helmand province yesterday, officials reported.

Afterward, the Taliban launched a mortar attack against innocent civilians living almost a dozen kilometers north of the destroyed lab. The attack on the civilians came about an hour after Afghan and coalition forces bested an insurgent force, which was later determined to be guarding a large heroin lab. Both attacks followed a night of fighting between insurgents and Afghan and coalition troops. A number of insurgents were killed in the firefights.

The heroin lab was located about 23 kilometers south of Musa Qalah, a town in Helmand province that is known to support Taliban activities. The lab contained large amounts of opium-processing chemicals, such as ammonium chloride, liquid ammonia and charcoal. Two rifles, two shotguns, ammunition, insurgent propaganda and improvised-explosive-device materials also were recovered.

U.S. and Afghan forces destroyed the laboratory and continued on with their combat patrol. About 11 kilometers north of the destroyed lab, insurgents attempted a third ambush in less than 24 hours.

During the fighting, Taliban fighters launched an 82 mm mortar into group of Afghan civilians living in Regay village. No civilians were killed, but one suffered shrapnel wounds and was provided immediate medical attention.

Afghan and coalition forces are conducting combat patrols as part of Operation Palk Mesher in southern Afghanistan. The operation is designed to disrupt and eliminate insurgent activity in Helmand province, U.S. officials said.

The Taliban have made repeated attempts to deceive media outlets with civilian casualty claims. Credible intelligence suggests that these false claims are being made in an attempt to weaken Afghan government and coalition resolve, officials said.

“The insurgents continue to follow their pattern of falsely reporting civilian casualties and continuing to put civilians in harm’s way in a vain attempt to stop the advance of the (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) forces toward their support areas,” said U.S. Army Capt. Vanessa R. Bowman, a Combined Joint Task Force 82 spokeswoman. “With the discovery of their drug-making facilities, it is becoming increasingly clear why they want us to stop our operations.

“It is unfortunate that the enemies of peace and stability will stoop so low as to fire mortars at innocent Afghans to protect their drug trade,” the captain said.

In other operations, Afghan soldiers accompanied by coalition troops thwarted a Taliban ambush during operations about 16 miles south of Musa Qalah, in Helmand province Aug. 25.

The Afghan-led patrol was crossing a tributary a few miles south of Regay village when more than 15 insurgents sprang an ambush with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms. The Afghan and coalition forces repelled the attack. Twelve enemy fighters were killed; no Afghan army or coalition members were injured during the fighting. No Afghan civilian casualties were reported.

The area in and around the town of Musa Qalah is recognized as the largest Taliban stronghold left in Afghanistan, officials said. Afghan and coalition forces are conducting combat patrols in the area as part of Operation Palk Mesher. The operation is designed to disrupt and eliminate insurgent activity in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

The purpose of the operation is “to strike into the heart of the insurgents’ safe haven,” Bowman said. “We expect that, as we maneuver deeper into this area, the Taliban will raise more and more inaccurate claims of non-combatant casualties.”

The Taliban “hope that by carrying out this campaign of lies, they can get the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to end its campaign in the area,” the captain said.

(Compiled from Combined Joint Task Force 82 news releases.)

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