December 12, 2007 By Amir Shah, Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan and NATO-led troops searched for any remaining Taliban fighters around Musa Qala on Tuesday, a day after the troops forced insurgents to retreat from the key southern town they had held for 10 months, the Defense Ministry said.
Taliban fighters still control three remote districts in northern Helmand province around Musa Qala, and the joint Afghan-NATO force will continue operations throughout the winter to target those areas, said the Defense Ministry spokesman, Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi.
The next two days will be crucial to completely secure Musa Qala and restore services for its citizens, Azimi said.
Twelve extremists were killed in a coalition airstrike between Musa Qala and the nearby town of Sangin early Tuesday, said Sangin district police Chief Mohammad Ali. More than a dozen insurgents were killed earlier in the clash for Musa Qala.
Taliban fighters overran Musa Qala in February, four months after British troops left the town after a controversial agreement that gave security responsibilities to Afghan elders.
President Hamid Karzai said the decision to enter Musa Qala — the only important territory insurgents controlled — followed reports of brutality there by the Taliban, al-Qaida and foreign fighters. But Karzai also said the successful attack was aided by some local Taliban leaders switching allegiance.
Most of the fighters left Musa Qala in trucks and motorbikes Monday after weeks of airstrikes and military operations by Afghan, British and U.S. forces.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force said its troops and Afghan soldiers had entered the outskirts of the main part of Musa Qala but would now proceed cautiously into the town center because of the danger of homemade bombs.
Meanwhile, in Maywand district of Kandahar province, Taliban fighters ambushed a convoy of NATO supply trucks on the main highway between Kandahar and Herat, sparking a two-hour gunbattle that killed five police and eight insurgents, said Kandahar provincial police Chief Sayed Agha Saqib.
In nearby Panjwayi district, a suicide car bomber blew up his vehicle near a NATO convoy, killing an Afghan man and child and himself, Saqib said. No NATO forces were killed, he said.