Photo Information

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).

Photo by SSgt. Tiffany Carter

‘Eyes in sky’ aid in largest drug raid in history

22 Mar 2012 | SSgt. Tiffany Carter

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.

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.  “3rd MAW (Fwd) has shown great support with intelligence surveillance reconnaissance from VMU-1, assault support from HMH-363, escort support from HMLA-369, and close air support from several Marine squadrons.”