British troops have successfully completed one of their largest operations in southern Afghanistan, transporting a massive hydro-electricity turbine more than 100 miles through Taliban territory, it was revealed today.
More than 2,000 UK troops were among nearly 4,000 international and Afghan personnel taking part in the five-day operation.
The turbine, which is eventually expected to supply electricity to around 1.5 million people, arrived at the Kajaki hydro-electric plant in Helmand province under cover of darkness yesterday.
The giant turbine was split into seven sections, each weighing almost 30 tons, and hidden inside shipping containers for the journey along the Helmand river valley, which has been held by insurgents for more than two years.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said that the weight of the equipment, as well as the 60-ton crane needed to install it, meant that it could only be delivered by land through territory normally considered to be under Taliban influence.
As parts of the route were away from major highways where the convoy could be vulnerable to attack by militias, engineers had to construct and strengthen roads as they went along.
British and American special forces are understood to have been dropped ahead of the 100-vehicle convoy to deal with Taliban strongholds on its route, with unconfirmed reports suggesting as many as 250 insurgents may have been killed.
Dozens of aircraft are believed to have been used to protect the convoy in an operation which has been two years in the planning.
A dam at Kajaki already provides a limited amount of hydro-electric power to parts of Helmand and Kandahar provinces, but the installation of the new turbine and the erection of new pylons, should allow this to be substantially increased within two years.
The Chinese-made turbine will be installed as part of a project funded by the American development agency USAID to increase the output of the Kajaki power plant.
As well as powering homes, the turbine will supply electricity to classrooms, clinics and food storage depots, said an MoD spokesman.