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Truce with the Taliban? Who'd a thought they'd...

February 4th, 2007 (04:07 am)

Grab your trusty Koran and read what "truce" means in it. It doesn't mean what the Brits think it does. The Taliban has regrouped and is 'coming back to town'. That's what happens when you let up on 'em. And, when you leave them to fight another day. Shaka had it right: "Leave no enemy behind you."

Taliban seize town and destroy landmark truce

by Tom Coghlan in Kabul

A controversial British-backed truce with the Taliban, which brought peace to a town in southern Afghanistan and was a central plank of UK military policy, was destroyed yesterday when hundreds of Taliban fighters stormed into Musa Qala and seized control from tribal elders.

The retaking of the town saw the Taliban destroy civic buildings once used as a forward operating base by British soldiers before the truce was negotiated between the Taliban and the elders of the town.

It threatens a wider series of local peace agreements being negotiated in perilous Helmand province and comes as its champion, the British commander of Nato forces, General David Richards, prepares to hand over his command to an American general tomorrow.

General Dan McNeill was reported this week to have viewed the experimental truce, which was forged last year, with deep scepticism.

A Taliban force, which some reports put at up to 300 strong, attacked the district centre of Musa Qala at 4am yesterday, overcoming a locally raised force of auxiliary police loyal to the Afghan government.

Haji Mir Wali, a local member of the Afghan parliament, said: "The Taliban have destroyed the walls of the district centre. They have put the tribal elders who supported the agreement with the government in jail." The Afghan interior ministry insisted that there was fighting throughout the day with tribal elders loyal to the government resisting alongside local supporters and members of the police force.

However, more credible accounts suggested that no actual fighting took place, but rather fierce argument between tribal elders and the incoming Taliban fighters, who simply disarmed the auxiliary police force.

Speaking by telephone from inside Musa Qala, several sources claimed that a protest was mounted by local people who begged the Taliban to leave, citing the huge disruption to the lives of ordinary people that accompanied heavy fighting in the town last year.

From June until September Musa Qala witnessed intense battles between British troops, based in the fortified district centre, and hundreds of Taliban fighters. The conflict caused widespread damage to the surrounding town of around 10,000 inhabitants. The majority of the inhabitants were forced to flee and airstrikes and artillery destroyed many buildings which Nato alleged were being used by Taliban fighters to launch their attacks.

Western diplomats said last night that the Taliban takeover was linked to a British precision airstrike that targeted one of three senior Taliban commanders operating around Musa Qala a week ago.

The airstrike, on the night of Jan 25, missed its target, Mullah Ghafoor, but killed his brother and eight associates. The Taliban commander initially attempted to move into Musa Qala a day later with a small force but was opposed by the local police and elders. However, Mullah Ghafoor returned yesterday with additional fighters gathered from the town of Sangeen, and according to some reports, Taliban reinforcements from Pakistan.

Though revenge appears to be one motivation for the Taliban attack, there were indications that it may be part of a wider Taliban strategy to derail several more British-backed treaties due to come into effect shortly.