A Royal Air Force (RAF) Reaper uncovered more than a tonne of drugs in a truck in southern Afghanistan using a Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS), the British Ministry of Defense (MOD) said on Tuesday.
Members of 39 Squadron were supporting the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and the United States Marine Corps (USMC) in identifying drug traffickers transiting through southern Helmand province.
During the mission, the RAF team were directed to a suspicious vehicle which later met up with a pick-up truck. Using their Reaper RPAS, the team members observed from above that the flatbed section of the truck was too shallow for a normal vehicle and suspected it of containing a hidden compartment.
The RAF team then identified both vehicles, enabling ANSF and USMC personnel to intercept the traffickers.
As a result, 1,280 kg of dry opium and 59 kg of refined heroin was found hidden within the vehicles. Four weapons were also confiscated and the drug traffickers involved were detained.
The U.S. street price for the heroin alone was estimated at 14.7 million U.S. dollars, according to the MOD, and the RAF team were involved in the interdiction of a further two vehicles where 860 kg of dry opium was discovered. The narcotics were destroyed on site.
Andy Bird, Wing Commander of 39 Squadron, said: “The pick-up truck looked heavy and the flatbed at the rear seemed too shallow, so it aroused our suspicions. This is exactly the sort of indicator that our personnel are trained to identify.”
“We were able to work closely with coalition troops who seized weapons and a large haul of opium and heroin worth millions of dollars. We were delighted, as this sort of success deprives the Taliban of resources and it helps keep drugs off the streets of the UK too,” he said.
According to the MOD, the Reaper is a medium-to-high-altitude, long-endurance RPAS and its primary mission is as an intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance asset. Its sensors provide real-time data to commanders and intelligence specialists at all levels.
“One of our main jobs is spotting insurgents who might be targeting troops on the ground with improvised explosive devices. We are their eyes in the sky,” Bird added.
The RAF team operates the Reaper remotely from Creech Air Force Base in the United States.