UK policy in tatters as Afghan town falls

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The Independent Online

A central element of British policy in Afghanistan, the Musa Qala agreement, appeared to be in tatters last night after Taliban forces overran the town it is named after. They bulldozed and burnt its administrative centre, and abducted opponents.

An exodus was under way from the town in Helmand province with people abandoning their homes in fear of air strikes amid reports that Taliban fighters were digging trenches as British and Nato forces moved into the area. There were also accounts, unconfirmed, of fighting place in the nearby district of Sangin.

Musa Qala has become a strategic and symbolic focal point since British forces withdrew after they reached a deal in November under which elders agreed to keep out the Taliban.

Paratroopers from 16 Air Assault Brigade Regiment lost six comrades defending the centre which was destroyed yesterday by the Taliban.

The Musa Qala agreement, brokered by the British and signed by the Helmand governor at the time, Mohammed Daoud, a British protégé, has been held up by the UK military and officials as a template for other volatile areas. Critics said the pact was a sham and the elders powerless.