British Soldiers Allegedly Traded Guns for Cocaine
Monday, September 25, 2006
LONDON, Sept. 24 -- A newspaper in Britain reported Sunday that British soldiers had smuggled stolen guns out of Iraq and exchanged them on the black market for cocaine.
A spokesman for the Defense Ministry said Sunday that soldiers had been investigated for the "unlawful possession" of weapons and that prosecutors would decide whether there was enough evidence to file charges. He would not comment on the report that small arms had been exchanged on the black market for drugs.
According to the Sunday Times, the soldiers transported handguns from Iraq to Germany and exchanged some of them for cocaine with a street value of $4,700. The drugs were then sold to soldiers fighting in Iraq, the newspaper reported.
The article said soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment, which has since returned from Iraq, are at the center of the inquiry.
The allegations come at a time of heightened focus on military misconduct, including reports of increasing drug use among troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Additionally, a British soldier pleaded guilty last week to "inhumane" treatment of Iraqi civilians in the death of a hotel receptionist who was allegedly beaten in September 2003 at a British military camp in Basra, a city in southern Iraq. Baha Mousa suffered 93 injuries, prosecutors said, including fractured ribs and a broken nose, before he died.
Six other soldiers charged in connection with his death have pleaded not guilty in the continuing court-martial.
On Saturday, thousands of protesters demanding that Britain withdraw its troops from Iraq and Afghanistan marched in Manchester, England, where Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labor Party opened its annual conference this weekend.
With polls showing public hostility toward Blair and weariness with the ongoing war, the prime minister announced earlier this month that he would step down within a year.
During an interview with the BBC on Sunday, Blair said the war in Afghanistan, where British soldiers have a particularly large presence, must continue.
"The whole reason we've gone into that as part of the NATO force under the U.N. resolution is because it is essential for the Taliban and al-Qaeda to come back into the southern part of Afghanistan, and it's essential for us to keep them out."
Blair also said the battle with insurgents in southern Afghanistan has been "tougher than anyone expected."