ROYAL Marines based at Norton Manor Camp near Taunton have been taking part in a major operation to stab at Taliban heartlands in Afghanistan.

Operation Ghartse Dagger involved over 600 Commandos and attached ranks in a Mobile Operations Group, which entered the area around Sapwan Kala in the Upper Sangin Valley.

Intelligence reports had suggested that insurgents fleeing Musa Qala after its fall in November 2007 had moved into the area to regroup after their defeat.

Maj Dan Cheesman, the officer commanding Bravo Company, said: "The operation was designed to deny the Taliban a possible safe haven and to prevent them regaining the ability to mount attacks against Sangin, which has seen considerable redevelopment since security improved under the Royal Marines."

Commanders also intended to interdict any insurgents identified in the area of Sapwan Kala and investigate possible drug factories. Musa Qala had been the site of many processing facilities for Afghanistan's heroin production and analysts suspected that this may have been moved east to Sapwan Kala to avoid the attentions of coalition forces.

Housed across several compounds, the marines found drug production on an industrial scale, including presses, sacks of chemicals and centrifuges.

By far the most important find was a huge number of bags of morphine base - estimated to be in excess of 1.5 tonnes.

Maj Cheesman added: "I can understand local people growing poppy because the economy here is limited and they have to make a living and feed their families. However, this drugs factory was a case of the greedy, not the needy."