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Thursday, 18 April, 2002, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Marines end valley mission
Royal Marines from 45 Commando in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan
About 400 marines went into Ginger Valley
A Royal Marine operation to comb a mountain valley in Afghanistan to destroy remaining pockets of the al-Qaeda terrorist network has been completed.

More than 400 Royal Marines went into action alongside a small number of allied US and Afghan troops, after the US requested help.

At the close of the operation, a senior Royal Marine commander expressed his sympathies to Canada after four of its soldiers were killed by US "friendly fire".

A US fighter plane in Afghanistan accidentally bombed a group of Canadian troops, killing four soldiers and injuring eight others during a routine training exercise near the southern city of Kandahar on Thursday.

Royal Marine Brigadier Roger Lane, commander of 3 Commando Brigade, told Sky News that war was not without risk.

He said: "Although we may put in procedures and processes to prevent that, sometimes there may be a kink in that and an accident happens."

He spoke after UK troops returned to their base at Bagram after carrying out extensive operations.

They did not encounter any rebel fighters - supporting suspicions that many have fled across the nearby border to Pakistan.

A marine from 45 Commando crouches with his weapon in Ginger Valley
The terrain is rough, and vast
But the troops did seize a "great deal" of papers, maps and radios, now being studied for intelligence information.

Operation Ptarmigan was tasked with destroying al-Qaeda bunkers and cave complexes in the mountains to the south east of Gardez.

The area, known as Ginger Valley, was targeted by American troops in Operation Anaconda last month - an offensive in which the US said eight of its own and "hundreds" of the enemy were killed.

It is littered with landmines and the debris of war, including the wreckage of a downed American Chinook helicopter.

Click here to see the marines' kit

Brigadier Lane said this was a "real operation" aimed at destroying any residual al-Qaeda or Taleban forces and denying them future use of any facilities in the region.

The task force discovered a number of previously unknown cave complexes, one of which contained over 20,000 rounds of anti-aircraft artillery ammunition, which was destroyed.

At a press briefing Brigadier Lane said Operation Ptarmigan had achieved all of his initial operation deployment objectives.

"Royal Marines have been operating very effectively at altitudes of up to 11,000ft and in adverse weather conditions.

"This is a tribute to the effectiveness of their training and fitness regime and also the efforts that have been made since arriving in theatre to get used to the local conditions."

Lieutenant Colonel Tim Chicken, who commands W and Z company's of 45 commando, said there were signs some rebel fighters had returned to the area since Anaconda.

He said: "Whilst we did not come across any Taleban or al-Qaeda there was evidence and indications that the facilities had been used."

Harsh conditions

"So, I would take it from that that the whole area remains one of some danger."

However, at least one marine was disappointed he had not confronted the enemy so far.

"It would be a shame to come all this way and not have any contact - all the lads have trained for it," said Andrew Robertson, 24, from Glasgow.

BBC correspondent Jonathan Charles spent 24 hours in the combat zone with the troops, and described the harsh conditions the marines were dealing with.

He said: "It's very tough up there, no doubt about it. They're operating at 10,000ft above sea level which makes breathing very difficult."

He said the 63kg (138lb) flak jackets and packs the men were carrying posed another problem, as did the landmines, the rough terrain and freezing temperatures.

Meanwhile, more than 100 extra Royal Marines are due to arrive in Afghanistan.

Click here to return

The BBC's Ben Brown
"The Royal Marines have been brought back to base, exhausted but glad to have been in action"
The BBC's Paul Anstiss
"During the operation, British soldiers managed to destroy several caves used by the enemy"
See also:

18 Apr 02 | South Asia
US bomb kills allies in Afghanistan
18 Apr 02 | South Asia
Kabul joy as ex-king returns
17 Apr 02 | UK
'It looked like hell'
17 Apr 02 | Scotland
More marines head for Afghanistan
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