UK troops 'find bomb factory' in Afghanistan operation

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Media captionBritish soldiers find the cache of explosives

British troops targeting a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan have found a cache of bomb-making equipment, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.

The improvised explosive device (IED) components were found as troops pushed forward into an area of central Helmand province in Operation Tor Shezada.

The operation, which began before dawn on Friday, aims to remove insurgents from an area near the town of Saidabad.

The explosives found in the bomb-making factory were detonated on site.

Earlier, commanders had said troops had met only light resistance as they consolidated their hold on ground seized from the Taliban.

Insurgents are thought to make bombs and plan attacks from the area around Saidabad.

Hundreds of British and Afghan troops are being led by 1st Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment.

Others involved come from 21 Engineer Regiment, the Counter IED taskforce, 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland, the Joint Helicopter Force (Afghanistan) and the Afghan National Army.

The MoD said troops worked to clear compounds around Saidabad throughout the early hours of Saturday.

It said the "large find" of bomb-making equipment was found when soldiers, working alongside Afghan security forces, began searching and clearing buildings.

"Working on intelligence gained on the ground, the Royal Engineer Search Team (REST), moved in to search a suspected IED factory once the remaining buildings had been cleared by soldiers from 1 Lancs and their Afghan colleagues," it said in a statement.

Capt Brad Pino, 13 Platoon commander, said: "We left at first light this morning to push round into an area we know that the insurgents have used before and previously there has been an IED factory.

"We've pushed out to clear the kalay (village) just to see if there are any insurgents still in the area and to find out what the local nationals know and whether they're happy that Isaf are here.

"It's been really quiet. The locals seem quite on side and happy to see us.

"They've told us that the insurgents have been in the area recently, potentially there are still some insurgents in the area, and there are some IEDs in the area."

Lt Amy Pennington, from the Counter IED taskforce, added: "There was local intelligence that one of the compounds had been used as an IED factory.

"So my team was sent in to search that factory and we actually found component parts of IEDs."

The MoD said after nearly six hours spent searching the area the troops returned to their patrol base to prepare for the next stage of the operation.

Details of the find came after Maj Simon Ridgway, 1 Lancs Battlegroup, said troops had "secured" the areas initially earmarked.

The troops are trying to clear the Taliban from an important stronghold in the Nad Ali district.

Saidabad is one of the areas that UK forces were unable to clear during Operation Moshtarak earlier this year.

Armoured assault

As many as 180 insurgents are believed to use the town as a base.

For the second day since they landed, the troops, with Afghan support, have been moving steadily forward from their new base in two large farm compounds.

Meanwhile, a larger armoured ground assault is heading towards them from Nad Ali so as to surround the Taliban who remain in Saidabad.

Assessing the progress made in the operation, Maj Ridgway told BBC News: "We have secured the areas that we initially wanted to secure and we're now getting a much better understanding of the areas that we are now in."

The BBC's correspondent in Kabul, David Loyn, said the test of success would not be in ground held, but in persuading local people that Afghan government security, with British and American support, was there to stay.

He said: "What they're hoping to do is... to persuade the local population that they are their friends and not their enemies."

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Media captionThe BBC's Ian Pannell examines the aims of Operation Tor Shezada

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