Last Taliban Stronghold In Afghanistan Falls To UN/USA Control
Kandahar, Afghanistan -- Residents fled their homes on Friday as NATO forces mounted an offensive to retake the southern town of Musa Qala, which has been a haven for Taliban fighters since British forces abandoned it in October 2006.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force announced it had mounted an operation along with Afghan army troops to retake the town in the southern province of Helmand.
Residents reached by telephone said people were evacuating Musa Qala after skirmishes began on the edge of the town and three bombs landed in the outskirts. Shopkeepers were packing up their goods because they were afraid of looting once Afghan troops arrived.
"The coalition troops are getting closer to Musa Qala town. They are just 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) away," said Niamat Jan, a shopkeeper. "They dropped three bombs on the town. I don't know what the casualties were. All the entrances to the town have been blocked by them.
More than any other place in southern Afghanistan, Musa Qala has highlighted the difficulties and the mistakes NATO troops have made over the last two years in the face of a resurgent Taliban.
British troops deployed there in large numbers in the spring of 2006, but then made the mistake of trying to use small numbers of soldiers to protect district towns. They rapidly came under siege from Taliban fighters who poured into Helmand province in far larger numbers than had been anticipated.
The British have since been working to regain the upper hand, pulling out of places like Musa Qala and consolidating control of the central region around the provincial capital.
Since this spring, they have steadily been pushing outward from that central region, slowly securing key towns and districts and establishing Afghan forces to hold those areas before moving on.
Musa Qala was left alone even though commanders acknowledged that it was a haven for several thousand Taliban fighters. British troops pulled out under an agreement with local elders who were to ensure that Taliban fighters would also stay out of the town. But in February, just three months later, the Taliban overran the town and dismissed the ruling council of elders.
Since then, Musa Qala has become a base for Taliban fighters moving across northern Helmand and into provinces to the north. Large numbers of insurgents, including foreign fighters, flocked to the region.
Musa Qala is one of the only bases the Taliban hold, and it is not clear whether they will try to defend the town or pull back into the hills.
Afghan troops have been operating across northern Helmand since the beginning of November, the NATO statement said. Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, an Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman, described it as a "massive multipurpose operation" in the north of Helmand province, Agence France-Presse reported.
"It includes a military operation, sweep-up operation, clearance, imposing the rule of law and providing an atmosphere for reconstruction," he said.
Residents reported fighting on the edge of Musa Qala on Friday.
"Several skirmishes have taken place nearby Musa Qala district," said Mahmood, a doctor living in the town, who uses only one name.
He said he heard a half-hour exchange of guns and rockets between NATO and Taliban forces in the afternoon.
As of December 11, 2007 Musa Qala, has fallen to the UN and American Forces!! The Last of the Taliban Forces in Afghanistan have fallen to UN/USA Control. The War In Afghanistan is just about over :-) Trying to find the story, will update as soon as possible.