- The Washington Times - Monday, February 5, 2007

KABUL, Afghanistan — NATO-led troops dropped leaflets on a southern Afghan town overrun by militants, warning the fighters to leave after their leader was killed in a targeted air strike, officials said yesterday.

The leaflets dropped over Musa Qala late Sunday ordered the Taliban to leave the town, said Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary.

An estimated 200 fighters swarmed Musa Qala last week, destroying the town center and temporarily taking local elders hostage. The town was subject to an October peace deal between village elders and the Helmand provincial government that prevented NATO, Afghan and Taliban fighters from coming within three miles of the town center.

Capt. Andre Salloum, a spokesman for the NATO-led force in southern Afghanistan, said alliance aircraft assisted in making the drops over Musa Qala. Two different fliers were dropped: one a message from Helmand’s governor and the other directed to the Taliban militants, he said.

A NATO air strike near Musa Qala on Sunday killed a Taliban leader whom residents and NATO officials identified as Mullah Gafoor, who led the town’s takeover after another alliance air strike nearby killed his brother late last month.

“By removing him, we have disrupted their command and control and made it more difficult for the insurgency to plan their next move,” said Col. Tom Collins, a spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.

Musa Qala endured intense battles between Taliban fighters and British troops last summer and fall. The fighting caused widespread damage to the town of about 10,000 inhabitants, most of whom were forced to leave. British forces withdrew after the truce, which turned over security to local leaders.

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