Afghan National Army (ANA) patrolling alongside U.S. Marines in Musa Qala (2010)
|District||Musa Qala District|
|Time zone||Afghanistan Standard Time (UTC+4:30)|
Musa Qala ('Fortress of Moses') is a town and the district center of Musa Qala District in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. It sits at and at 1043 m altitude in the valley of Musa Qala River in the central western part of the district. Its population has been reported in the British press to be both 2,000 and 20,000. It is in a desolate area, populated by native Pashtun tribes.
In February 2006 intensive fighting erupted there, leading to 28 deaths, including the Musa Qala district chief, Abdul Quddus. On March 3, 2006, the Sangin district governor, Amir Jan, was killed in Musa Qala while on vacation. British forces were deployed to defend the district offices at Musa Qala (and also at Sangin, Nowzad and Kajaki). Over several months, eight British soldiers died there during attacks by the Taliban. July 23–25, 2006, Danish troops of the "1. Lette Opklaringseskadron" (1st Light Reconnaissance Squadron, 120 men) moved in to replace the British troops, but found themselves having to assist the British troops repel a major Taliban attack before they could carry out the replacement. On 28 August 2006, the Danish forces were replaced as planned—if slightly belated—and were once again replaced by the British.
Truce with the Taliban
In late September 2006, a secret truce was allegedly made with the Taliban under which British troops would quietly move out of Musa Qala in return for the Taliban not attacking the region. The truce had the sanction of Mohammad Daud, the governor of Helmand province, and most tribal elders, who felt they could now exercise control over the Taliban themselves. It was also seen as a move to help integrate the local Pashtun tribes on the side of the US-allied government. Others however, saw the move as a cop-out; Lieutenant-General David Richards, the NATO commander in Afghanistan at the time, said that this move turned these four centers into "magnets" for the Taliban insurgents.
Initially, the local leaders were happy over the settlement, which gave them the upper hand over the Taliban. In the long run, however, attempts to win over the population appear to have failed, especially under the NATO strategy of air bombing which killed more than 4,600 Afghan noncombatants from 2001 to 2006, according to a study by University of New Hampshire economist Marc W. Herold. The result has been the steady growth of anti-American sentiment in the region, focused on the US-backed regime of President Hamid Karzai. Karzai himself deplored the attacks, apparently breaking down in tears, saying that "the cruelty is too much. [The coalition forces] are killing our children."
Recapture by the Taliban
On February 1, 2007, a Taliban force of about a hundred or possibly two hundred strong under Mullah Abdul Ghafoor captured the town, overran the district center and raised their trademark white flag. All tribal leaders who had arranged the truce with the British forces were jailed. Some sources report the Taliban force numbered "several hundred".
The situation created a crisis for the ISAF forces in Afghanistan, on the very day that the British commanding officer General David Richards handed over charge of the ISAF team to an American, General Dan K. McNeill; MacNeil suggested that "surgical and deliberate" force would be used to evict the fighters from Musa Qala. On February 4, US forces claimed that an air strike near Musa Qala had killed a senior Taliban leader, possibly Mullah Abdul Ghafoor, while travelling in a truck.
McNeill, the new ISAF commander, felt that "come spring, an ISAF offensive not a Taliban offensive will set the conditions to defeat the insurgents again."
Eurasianet reports: "The attack laid waste to an agreement there, brokered last fall by Richards and local tribal elders, under which NATO troops agreed to withdraw from the town in return for a commitment by local Afghan leaders to oppose the Taliban."
Eurasianet reports that Richards, the outgoing ISAF commander, is an expert at negotiation. It reports that McNeill, the new ISAF commander, opposes the kind of local agreements that Richards favored, and speculated that the aerial bombardment that was reported to have killed Mullah Abdul Ghafour was a sign of McNeill's more aggressive, less conciliatory approach.
- "Officials in several European countries have quietly expressed concern about placing an American general in charge of the NATO force. Richards tried to create a less harsh, more economic-development-oriented identity for NATO in Afghanistan, as compared to the ‘‘kicking-down-doors’’ image that US forces have. Many local analysts expect NATO forces to embrace a more aggressive stance under McNeill, who is believed to oppose the type of local peace arrangements that Richards promoted. The danger at this point is that an overly aggressive NATO force in Afghanistan could alienate Afghans, and thus cause the Taliban’s support base to grow."
The district was the scene of heavy fighting in late July 2007 after ISAF forces attacked several rebel hideouts in Helmand Province. Coalition officials said that up to 160 Taliban fighters were killed between July 22 and July 26 in gun battles and air strikes, adding that, rather than avoiding battle, the Taliban were trying to defend the area. No civilian casualties were reported by ISAF, although a self-described resident claimed by phone that 16 civilians were killed in an air strike.
In October 2007, Reuters reported that ISAF troops and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) had killed 80 Taliban insurgents in a six-hour battle there. As with the July engagement, the Taliban concentrated their forces and fought to defend the region rather than using typical "shoot and scoot" tactics.
Battle of Musa Qala
As of December 7, 2007, an alleged 2000 Taliban rebels occupied Musa Qala. ISAF and Afghan forces prepared for a siege of the town. Operation Mar Karadad  commenced with an overnight attack by the air assets of the 82nd Airborne Task Force Corsair, a Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB). Afghan troops and paratroopers from 1st Battalion 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment fought for control of the village, which was a major Taliban drug trafficking station and the Taliban's only occupied village in the strategically crucial Helmand province. It was considered to be of symbolic importance to both international forces and insurgents operating in the area.[who?] There has been some civilian evacuation, partly aided by the aerial dropping of leaflets warning of the impending battle. In preparation, it is believed that the village was heavily mined by Taliban fighters. Sergeant Lee Johnson of the 2nd Bn The Yorkshire Regiment was killed shortly after 10am on 8 December 2007, whilst taking part in an operation to recapture the town, when a land mine exploded. The Taliban insurgents withdrew from the area by midday on 10 December leaving the ANSF and NATO forces in control of the town.
U.S. Marines in Musa Qala
In April 2008 2nd Battalion 7th Marines deployed throughout the Farah and Helmand Provinces. Their mission was to assist in seizing the town and to help IAF forces train the Afghan National Police. They met heavy opposition. They had several very intense firefights within days of being there and throughout the coming months, but were aggressive and quick in their tactics resulting them pushing the offensive further and further out of the town.
In mid-2008 the Afghan police had completed their training and were strategically placed throughout the town and its entrances and mentored with constant supervision and even conducted security patrols and combat operations alongside ISAF forces. After months of training and fighting with many firefights sometimes exceeding 6 hours, the town of Musa Qala was significantly quieter and more peaceful than it had been prior to the U.S Marines arrival.
In August 2008 a detachment of Marines left Musa Qala to go assist in the overtaking of Taliban headquarters in Helmand province in a sister town called Nawzad. The town was used by the Taliban as a safe haven while not in Musa Qala and had been completely abandoned by all Afghan civilians due to Taliban presence. While in Nawzad the Marines successfully drove the three to four hundred Taliban out with heavy airstrikes and ground forces in just over 14 hours. Though the Marines did not have the resources to hold the Taliban HQ and had to return to base which resulted in the Taliban coming back in several days later.
In memory of a prior conflict, in 2006, involving the British Royal Irish Regiment, a new Regimental March, composed by Chris Attrill and commissioned by Larne Borough Council, was given to the regiment on Saturday 1 November 2008 in Larne, County Antrim, Northern Ireland during an event in which the regiment was presented with the 'Freedom of the Borough'. This gave the regiment the right to march through the town with 'flags flying, bands playing and bayonets fixed'. The March was named, 'Musa Qala'.
- Times online - Bungs and bungling in Musa Qala: (15 July 2008)
- Smith, Mick (1 October 2006) "Message to the Politicians - Let the Soldiers Get on with their Job!" Times Online
- Tom Coghlan in Kabul and James Burleigh (10 December 2007) "Battle for Taliban stronghold intensifies" Telegraph Online
- Toderich, Kristina and Tsikatani, Tsuneo (October 2005) "Water/Pasture Assessment of Registan Desert (Kandahar and Helmand Provinces)" Kier Discussion Paper Series Discussion Paper No. 606, p. 2
- Rahmani, Waliullah (23 March 2006) "Helmand Province and the Afghan Insurgency" Terrorism Monitor 4(6): pp. 3-5, p.4
- Dupee, Matt (20 May 2006) "Afghan Battles Kill Up To 105" Afghan.com
- Johannesen, Lars Ulslev, "De danske tigre", Kbh 2008, ISBN 978-87-02-06742-2 describes the Danish actions there; him being the commander.
- Michael Smith (2006-10-01). "British troops in secret truce with the Taliban". The Times, London (Sunday Times). Retrieved 2007-02-04.
- Selig S Harrison (February 2007). "Discarding an Afghan opportunity". The Peninsula, Qatar. Archived from the original on February 5, 2007. Retrieved 2007-02-04.
- Tom Coghlan (2007-02-04). "Taliban forces retake Musa Qala". London: The Telegraph.
- Ahmed Rashid (February 5, 2007). "Taliban takeover of town could mark start of military offensive". Eurasianet. Retrieved 2007-02-05.
- "NATO airstrike kills Taliban leader in southern Afghan town overrun by militants". The Associated Press. 2007-02-04.
- U.S. General Leads NATO Afghan Force, The Associated Press, February 4, 2007
- "80 Taliban Reported Killed in Afghanistan". Reuters. 2007-10-28.[dead link]
- Sunday Mirror Article. Fight to Death
- Yorkshire Regiment News Page
- BBC Online article
- Freedom of the Borough