THICK smoke filled the desert sky as another huge explosive cache discovered by a South Yorkshire Army unit was destroyed in a controlled blast.
Soldiers from the Light Dragoons cavalry regiment, which recruits from Sheffield, Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham, seized 250 kilogrammes of high explosives in the Nahr-e Saraj area of Helmand.
The Light Dragoons’ discovery was revealed after Third Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment found and destroyed 300kg of fertiliser-based materials in a village in the neighbouring Malgir area – a record haul in Helmand this year.
The latest seizure was made by A Squadron Light Dragoons – known as The Empire unit.
Describing the discovery, Squadron Sergeant Major Brian Howard said: “We were moving towards a position and saw a blue tarpaulin.
“I thought it was a body at first, because it’s not uncommon for Afghans to bury family members loosely on the hills.
“I didn’t want anyone watching to realise what was going on, so we quickly dropped off six blokes then moved off in our vehicles to keep the dust screen moving.”
He added: “While stealthily moving into a covert mountain observation post, to watch over known insurgent routes and positions, the Dragoons searched the area and found the huge hidden IED cache.
“Two soldiers pushed forward to investigate further and found 250kg of homemade explosives plus the deadly pressure plates used to initiate improvised explosive devices.
“It gives great satisfaction taking capability away from the insurgents. The bomb disposal guys said we had probably saved 60 limbs, or 30 pairs of legs. Ultimately, we’ve saved lives.”
A Squadron Light Dragoons is currently the Helmand Brigade Reconnaissance Force, which has units roving across the desert which surrounds densely-populated areas of Helmand to disrupt Taliban activity.
Meanwhile, B Squadron is sent out on planned operations and some of its soldiers are also helping to train the Afghan police force.
Light Dragoons’ commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Sam Plant said: “We are having a very successful tour so far. A lot of our work is about understanding what is going on out on the ground and disrupting insurgents.
“The total explosives we have found across the province over the last four months is now 800 kilogrammes.
“Unfortunately, however, we have had some casualties including one young chap who had a double leg amputation after an IED blast.”
Col Plant added: “It is a terrible tragedy for the soldier and we are thinking of him all the time.
“However, our total casualty figures have been low while the work is important and has saved many lives.”
n See tomorrow’s Star for interviews with South Yorkshire soldiers serving with the Third Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment in Afghanistan.