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Sea Kings help seize massive drugs and explosive hauls

Ground crew carrying out checks on a Sea King ASaC as a RAF Merlin Mk3 taxis at Camp Bastion

17/11/2011

Naval fliers in Afghanistan have helped to stop insurgents building over 1,500 homemade bombs – and seized more than seven tonnes of drugs. The ‘eyes in the sky’ of the Sea King Airborne Surveillance and Control – better known as Baggers – of 854 Naval Air Squadron guided forces on the ground to make a series of busts in a summer and autumn of success.

Every single time a vehicle we’ve tracked is stopped and drugs or explosives are found by ground forces, we are making things a percentage safer for Afghan civilians and the forces there who are protecting them.
Cdr Pat Douglas, Commander Maritime Sea King Force

Royal Navy helicopters have helped to stop insurgents in Afghanistan building more than 1,500 homemade bombs.

That’s just one headline figure from a summer and autumn of success, ‘eyes in the sky’ Sea Kings have used their cutting-edge radar to track insurgents so ground troops could pounce.

Over the past five months more than seven tonnes of explosives have been captured, and a similar amount of drugs – worth well over £10m on the streets of the UK – thanks to the helicopters of 854 Naval Air Squadron.

Commanders in theatre say the Sea King Airborne Surveillance and Control – to give the Baggers their official title – are playing “a pivotal role”.

The helicopters, based at Camp Bastion, are flying up to 50 hours a week, using specialist radar in a giant sack on the side of the Sea King – which gives the squadrons their ‘Bagger’ nickname – to follow the movements of insurgents thousands of feet below on the ground.

In the past fortnight alone the squadron – which comprises fewer than 50 personnel in Helmand – has directed troops on to three men travelling in a truck which was carrying 570kg of opium – with a street value of £1m, while £250,000 of heroin was found on another vehicle.

But the biggest boost to the concerted effort to strangle the insurgency however comes in the amount of explosives that have fallen into the hands of friendly forces thanks to the Sea Kings, known as ‘cloudwalkers’ by Afghans.

The summer haul totals 7.2 tonnes of explosives – enough to produce more than 1,500 10lb small improvised explosive devices which have killed and maimed thousands of British, Allied and Afghan troops – and Afghan civilians.

In addition to these successes, the past two weeks have also seen the helicopters pass on 70 intelligence tip-offs to ground troops to follow up.

“Individually, these ‘busts’ are quite small, but collectively, our small force is making a very big difference,”

said Cdr Pat Douglas, Commander Maritime Sea King Force.

“We may be only operating over Helmand and environs but the impact of what we do spreads across the entire country.

“Every single time a vehicle we’ve tracked is stopped and drugs or explosives are found by ground forces, we are making things a percentage safer for Afghan civilians and the forces there who are protecting them.”

The Baggers have been in Afghanistan since May 2009, with 854 and her sister squadron from RNAS Culdrose, 857 NAS, taking it in turns to constantly monitor insurgent activity.

Although their missions are hundreds or thousands of feet above Helmand and the helicopters are based many miles from the scene of the various interdiction operations, Allied troops are very quick to pass on their gratitude for the intelligence the Baggers provide.

“We’re told quite quickly the outcome of our actions and the feedback we get is that we’re making a difference, which has a big effect on morale – really satisfying,”

said Cdr Douglas.

Crews initially used their sorties over Helmand to build up their knowledge and experience of each area and to understand life on the ground, day-to-day traffic and seasonal movements (such as harvest gathering).

With two and a half years’ experience under their belt, Cdr Douglas says his men and women are well attuned and familiar with their operating areas, making it easier for them to spot the unusual.

“Operations now are more focused, more targeted and much more effective because we know the ground – there’s a lot of knowledge in the squadrons,”

Cdr Douglas adds.

“We are on a campaign footing. We will continue to do the job out there as long as we are needed – we stay until our job is done.”

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