BASRA, Iraq, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Remaining British troops in Iraq's Basra province were called on by Iraqi forces to support a raid on a major smuggling operation on the Shatt al Arab Waterway.
Iraqi and British forces have been targeting what officials call gangs smuggling arms and other assets to militants in the region. A recent operation led by soldiers from the 14th Iraqi Army Division and supported by troops from the British Spearhead Platoon 1st Duke of Lancaster's Battle Group on the Shatt al Arab Waterway intercepted the criminal gangs attempting to transport arms and munitions, the British Ministry of Defense reported.
Officials say the four barges were equipped with heavy machine guns and armed militants. When the suspected criminal smuggling operation entered Iraqi waters, a firefight ensued.
"They were engaging us with accurate heavy machine gun fire and we needed to sort it before we started to take casualties," British Cpl. John Thompson said in a statement.
British officials credit the Iraqi units for the eventual success during the smuggling bust and say the Iraqi forces only called the British in for extra help.
"The operation was about supporting the Iraqi Security Forces; it is their success, not ours," said Lt. Col. Gary Deakin, commanding officer of the 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster. "They fought a tough fight and just needed a little extra support, both moral and physical to finish the job. They are a very capable lot. That is our job now and we are glad to be there to help."