Thursday, September 1, 2005

Soldiers find $30M Afghan drug cache

Editor’s Note: The following article was forwarded to The South Reporter by Debbie Harris, Sgt. Norton’s mother-in-law. We are pleased to be able to reprint it. (Article by Jason Chudy. Used with permission from Stars and Stripes, a DoD publication 2005 Stars and Stripes.”)

By Jason Chudy
Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition,
Wednesday, August 17, 2005

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Soldiers recently captured what was estimated to be about $30 million worth of heroin in the Arghandab district. The soldiers from 3rd Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment were searching for a Taliban weapons cache on a farm compound Saturday when they made the discovery.

Soldiers were joined in the search by a small group of Army engineers and members of the Afghan National Defense Service.

According to company executive officer 1st Lt. Sean McDonough, 24, of Boston, the unit had been led to believe the family living on the compound was guarding the weapons.

Platoon leader 2nd Lt. Bo Prosch, 23, of Arlington, Va., said that the soldiers searched the L-shaped building’s rooms while the engineers searched the compound with a metal detector. The owner’s wife watched the few soldiers searching outside in the compound courtyard, rather than those inside the house.

“She didn’t care that we were going through the house, searching through her clothes, but she didn’t want us messing with the haystack,” said Sgt. Christopher (Brett) Norton, 28, of Byhalia, Miss.

They quickly found out why.

Five bags of unrefined heroin, each weighing between 10 and 12 pounds, were pulled from the haystack. At first, the soldiers weren’t sure exactly what was in the plastic bags.

The woman, whose husband wasn’t home, first told them the bags were her “supplies,” then said it was cow feed.

The soldiers left the bags sitting on the ground as they continued their search for weapons.

Just outside the compound, McDonough found an AK-47 assault rifle and magazines, plus some hand grenades. When they returned to the courtyard, the five bags were gone, but the woman remained.

“She was acting really fishy,” Norton explained. “It was really ridiculous how she thought we wouldn’t find them.”

One bag was hidden under an overturned bucket. Another was hastily put in a chicken coop. One was even hidden under one of her daughter’s burkas.

Once the bags were again rounded up, the woman told the soldiers through an interpreter that the family was watching the bags for someone else.

Breaking one open, the soldiers and the Afghan agents realized exactly what they had — unrefined heroin.

Refined, powdered southwest Asian heroin sells in the U.S. for up to $70,000 per kilogram, with each 50- to 100-milligram dose selling on the street for about $10, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Web site. A kilogram weighs 2.2 pounds.

The average dose, according to the Justice Department, averages between 23.9 percent and 29.8 percent pure.

“Surprise set in when they gave us a rough estimate of what it was worth,” Norton said. “We said, ‘Hey, we just pulled $30 million out of the Taliban’s pockets!’ That’s a big dent.”

The soldiers, not surprisingly, said they weren’t disappointed that they didn’t find any weapons.

“We were looking for a cache, but we just happened to find a different kind of cache,” McDonough said.

“I know for my guys this was a big morale boost,” Norton said. “We’ve been going out and hitting this area hard. To have a payoff like this in the first three weeks, we know we’ve made a dent.”

The drugs were turned over to the Afghan National Defense Service.

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