Skip to main content /WORLD /WORLD

UK troops find al Qaeda arsenal

Marines convoy
A British marines convoy scours the mountains as part of Operation Snipe  

BAGRAM, Afghanistan (CNN) -- British commandos have unearthed a large weapons cache inside a "significant" al Qaeda cave complex in Afghanistan, UK military officials say.

The cave system is still being searched but anti-aircraft, anti-tank and other heavy munitions have already been found.

"We have discovered a series of caves used by the al Qaeda and Taliban for the storage of a major weapons arsenal," Brigadier General Roger Lane said on Thursday.

Troops entered one cave and removed 30 truckloads of ammunition and military equipment, including mortars.

Two Russian-made tanks were found outside the cave.

On the Scene:Operation Ptarmigan 
Attack on America
 CNN NewsPass Video 
Agencies reportedly got hijack tips in 1998
Intelligence intercept led to Buffalo suspects
Report cites warnings before 9/11
Timeline: Who Knew What and When?
Interactive: Terror Investigation
Terror Warnings System
Most wanted terrorists
What looks suspicious?
In-Depth: America Remembers
In-Depth: Terror on Tape
In-Depth: How prepared is your city?
On the Scene: Barbara Starr: Al Qaeda hunt expands?
On the Scene: Peter Bergen: Getting al Qaeda to talk

The cave was seven-feet high and 30 to 50 meters deep, according to officials.

It was about seven-feet wide at its entrance.

The cave complex was found by a reconnaissance brigade of Britain's 45 Commando group -- part of the Royal Marines -- involved in the UK-led mission, called Operation Snipe.

The entrances to the caves were padlocked and covered by steel reinforced doors, Lane said. One of the caves, apparently hit in earlier allied airstrikes, was filled with combat weapons and munitions.

Engineers are continuing to search the caves and their final assessment is expected to take "some time," according to the British commander.

"When these armaments can be recovered, they will be returned to the Afghan interim authority as part of the programme to train and equip the new Afghan army," Lane said.

"Otherwise, the facility and all that it contains will be destroyed."

Earlier this month, the British Ministry of Defence said the operation -- the second to be launched by the 45 Commando since it arrived in the country last month -- was aimed at an area known to have been used by al Qaeda.

UK marine commandoes
British Royal Marine commandoes board a Chinook helicopter  

Operation Snipe involves about 1,000 combat troops and is supported by U.S. air power and U.S. special operations troops.

Lane said the findings were a "prime example" of how the allied forces can successfully disrupt the operations of the remaining members of the al Qaeda terrorist network and the former Taliban regime.

"We can deny them access to a safe haven for subsequent terrorist operations," he said.

About 1,700 British troops have been deployed to Bagram.

In April, about 400 mostly British troops completed a five-day mission dubbed Operation Ptarmigan.

The troops found "terrorist facilities," documents and anti-aircraft ammunition in the Shah-i-Kot area near the Pakistani border, but did not come under fire.

Allies said the area has been a key resupply route for al Qaeda and Taliban soldiers.

The Royal Marines, based in Arbroath, Scotland, are trained in mountain warfare and are in Afghanistan to help U.S.-led coalition flush out pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters gone to ground in Afghanistan's rugged terrain.


• More UK combat troops deployed
April 11, 2002
• UK combat troops fly in to Kabul
April 3, 2002
• More British troops fly to Kabul
December 27, 2001
• First UK peace troops land in Kabul
December 21, 2001

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.



Back to the top