Calm after fight for Afghan town

Other News Materials 16 December 2007 07:49 (UTC +04:00)

Local people are slowly returning to the Afghan town of Musa Qala, after the Taleban stronghold was captured by British, US and Afghan forces.

Most shops and businesses are still shut, and civilians are said to be wary of a Taleban counter-attack, despite the hundreds of troops now in the town.

One resident, Wali Mohammed, said he had counted 15 bodies of women and children lying dead in one street.

But UK officials say only two children died, as a result of Taleban action.

"The only civilian casualties we are aware of... occurred in an incident in which the Taleban ordered a family to leave a compound and drive at speed towards Isaf (International Security Assistance Force) troops," said the UK Ministry of Defence in a statement.

"The Isaf troops followed correct procedures, thinking the vehicle was a suicide bomber, and fired at it. This resulted in the death of two children who were in the back of the vehicle and were not visible to the troops," said the MOD.

People who fled from Musa Qala are beginning to return, but nearly all of the shops remain closed and the town shows scars from the bombardment that drove out the Taleban, reports the BBC 's David Loyn from Musa Qala.

The British have offered to build a mosque, schools and a health clinic, but one man angrily told the BBC did not need any of that, he just wanted security.

Eleven-year-old Aktar Mohammed, who remained in the town during the battle, said many of his family members had been killed and their bodies lay under the rubble.

But the Ministry of Defence said the operation was designed to limit collateral damage, adding it "designed to win over the local people and we could not do that if we levelled their homes".

The Afghan army, supported by a small British base, will now try to hold the town that has faced rocket attacks from the Taleban almost every day since they left.

It is remote, at the end of a vulnerable supply route and a prime target for counter-attacks by the insurgents.