Monday, February 5, 2007

Nato airstrike kills Taleban leader who broke deal

A senior Taleban commander who tormented British troops in northern Helmand has been killed in an airstrike against rebels who have overrun the town of Musa Qala.

“This key Taleban leader was well known to have commanded insurgents within the Musa Qala district and was directly responsible for the recent uprising and insurgent attacks within Musa Qala,” said Squadron Leader Dave Marsh, a spokesman for Nato troops in the south.

Haji Naem Khan, a member of the Helmand provincial council, said: “Between nine and ten this morning they targeted and bombed the vehicle of Mullah Abdul Ghafour in Musa Qala. They killed him and five of his bodyguards. He was a very strong and influential guy in the area.”

Mullah Ghafour was notorious in northern Helmand for being a ruthless leader, a daring fighter and a vehement opponent of the British presence. It is believed that he led countless attacks against British troops over the summer and his death will be a blow for the morale of his rebel followers.

On Thursday he led a band of more than 200 in the storming of Musa Qala. They destroyed the government compound, took the local police and government officials hostage, set up barricades and flew the white Taleban flag over the district centre.

British troops fought pitched battles in the town in summer but withdrew in October after signing a peace deal with village elders who agreed to keep the Taleban out of the town.

Under the deal, which was criticised by American officials, the British and the Taleban had to remain three miles outside the town, which would be policed by a council of 50 village elders and their gunmen.

The deal held for four months but ended last month when the brother of Mullah Ghafour, Mullah Ibrahim, was killed in a Nato airstrike outside Musa Qala, along with eight other Taleban. Mullah Ghafour was said to be enraged and led the attack on Musa Qala in retaliation.

It was claimed by Taleban rebels that the airstrike breached the Musa Qala agreement but this was denied strenuously by Nato. “The event they claim was a breach . . . was clearly outside the area covered by the Musa Qala agreement,” a Nato statement said.

“This claim is purely a Taleban excuse to try to justify their attempt to destroy an arrangement that they perceived to not be to their advantage and was increasingly being supported within the town.”

In southern Helmand province, the RAF has carried out one of its biggest air drops to provide food, ammunition and fuel for 350 British soldiers in the isolated town of Garmsir.

Marines from Zulu Company, 45 Commando and soldiers of the Light Dragoons have been engaged in heavy fighting with Taleban ensconced in Jugroom Fort, a compound in the town.

Garmsir was the location for the dramatic operation by Marines strapped to Apache attack helicopters to pick up the body of a fallen comrade inside the compound last month.