- The Washington Times - Monday, June 24, 2002

BAGRAM, Afghanistan British marines broke into a suspicious village compound and chanced upon one of the largest weapons caches uncovered in southeastern Afghanistan rooms stacked high with hundreds of mortars, rockets and heavy weapons.
The marines said yesterday that the arsenal they found stashed in the village of Surwipan near the Pakistani border might have been left by al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
More than 10 men were found in the compound, and some were held by the troops.
"We were taken aback by the amount of stuff here," Sgt. Buck Ryan said. "In the last room, there was a curtain. When I pulled it back, it was like, 'Oh my God.' It was stacked up to the roof with weapons and ammunition."
In the compound, nicknamed "the Alamo" by the marines, troops hauled box after box of arms out of five or six rooms with stone-arch doorways and piled them in the dirt courtyard, where chickens ran freely.
In one room, a bomb specialist peered with a light into stacks of rockets, looking for booby traps.
The marines said it was one of the largest caches they had found after weeks of searching the area around the town of Khost, near the Pakistani border.
Few al Qaeda or Taliban fighters have been found in the region. They are believed to be hiding or to have fled into Pakistan.
The surprise find came Saturday morning when a patrol of marines from Zulu Company of Britain's 45 Commando Group on a nearby hill spotted a large antenna array on top of the compound.
It raised their suspicions, and they moved in. A man was peeking out the door of the compound, smiling, but when he saw the marines, he ducked inside and slammed the door. The marines heard men running around inside and shouting, Sgt. Ryan said.
The troops smashed through the compound's stone wall. The men inside, some wearing military fatigues, surrendered without a fight, though several Kalashnikov assault rifles were found nearby, ready to fire, Sgt. Ryan said. The men destroyed two radios before the marines could enter.
Eight of the Afghans were brought to the military interrogation center in Bagram, officials said. A family of about a dozen people also was found in the compound and told to leave.
While the site was being secured, several white vans were seen driving from the far side of the village, but the marines were unable to stop them. Villagers gathered outside the compound and shouted at the troops as they worked.
"The crowd outside was very hostile," marine Liam Armstrong told journalists. "We were afraid they would throw a grenade over the wall."
During the night, marines counted the weapons while villagers outside fired shots into the air. A U.S. C-130 gunship circled overhead, dropping flares, but did not open fire.
The armory included hundreds of large mortar rounds and rockets, thousands of recoilless rocket rounds and 65,000 rounds of small-arms ammunition.
The marines also found stacks of rocket launchers, several anti-aircraft machine guns and several large mortar launchers. Much of the equipment was new.
There were also several boxes of plastic explosives, as well as timers, detonation cord and other equipment for making bombs and booby traps, said Sgt. Colin Hill, Zulu Company's munitions specialist.
Villagers told the marines that enough arms to fill five trucks had been kept in the compound, but that men came recently and removed most of it, Sgt. Ryan said. The remainder amounted to nearly two truckloads.


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