More than $60 million worth of heroin was seized by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents, along with U.S. military forces and Afghan and Russian law enforcement officers, during raids on four "clandestine drug labs" in northeastern Afghanistan, senior DEA officials said Thursday.
Three heroin labs and a morphine-conversion facility in the Achin district of Nangarhar province were targeted as a part of "Operation Tar Pit," during which more than a ton of opium and heroin, along with the equipment, components and chemicals used to manufacture the drugs, were confiscated.
The labs were described by senior DEA officials as a major center of opium production in Afghanistan, adding that the raids were aimed at disrupting heroin production in the province; seizing narcotics, lab equipment and precursor chemicals; and instilling confidence in the local populace regarding the effectiveness of Afghan counternarcotics forces.
Senior DEA officials also said the operation was designed to produce "future intelligence-directed interdiction" efforts and create a "credible perception of risk" within the drug trade.
Acting on intelligence, the senior DEA officials said the multinational task force was able to identify a major clandestine heroin laboratory in the Zerasari village in Achin. Upon arrival at the site, agents discovered the three additional labs hidden by vegetation. One of those labs turned out to be used for converting opium into morphine.
No arrests were made, but the senior officials said evidence collected confirmed that all of the labs were actively producing heroin and morphine.
In addition to 2,050 pounds of heroin and 340 pounds of opium seized, the officials said the agents also seized 22 pounds of acetic anhydride, 30 pounds of ammonium chloride, 22 pounds of soda ash, 88 pounds of charcoal, two mechanical heroin presses, three metal industrial cooking vats and 500 feet of plastic irrigation.
Last year, three DEA agents and seven U.S. military service members assigned in Afghanistan died in a crash of a U.S. military CH-47 helicopter after a successful narcotics/counterinsurgency operation in that country's rugged Badghis province. The agents were Michael E. Weston, Forrest N. Leamon and Chad L. Michael.
They had executed search warrants at a Afghan bazaar that had become a safe haven for insurgents and contained significant quantities of narcotics, improvised explosive devices and weapons used against the U.S.-led coalition. After a successful operation that included an hourlong firefight with insurgents, the agents died when their helicopter crashed as they were leaving the area.
Afghanistan has long been the largest producer of opium and heroin in the world, with profits from its illicit trade worldwide being a major part of funding for al Qaeda and the Taliban. Earlier this year, the State Department reported that Afghanistan produces more than 90 percent of the world's supply of opium.
Nangarhar province, whose capital city of Jalalabad has more than 1.3 million residents, has long been a source of opium and heroin. Last month, an Afghan National Security and International Security Assistance Force strike force raided a drug lab in Achin district, finding 44 lbs. of packaged heroin, 66 lbs. of hashish, nearly 48 gallons of a chemical used to process heroin, and associated equipment.
In a separate instance, a joint ANS/ISAF patrol seized more than 3,300 lbs. of processed opium, 1,100 lbs. of raw opium and approximately 60 pieces of drug-processing equipment. One suspected insurgent was detained during that operation.
The senior DEA officials said the investigation into the drug-trafficking organization responsible for operating the clandestine heroin labs is ongoing.
In addition to the DEA, those taking part in the raid were agents from the Defense Department, NATO, the Afghanistan Interior Ministry and the Russian drug-control agency. The Soviet Union withdrew its last troops from Afghanistan in 1989, but the Russian government has become increasingly involved in drug-control operations in the country.
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