KABUL, Afghanistan – Taliban militants overran a southern Afghan town where a peace agreement had been negotiated last fall, roaming through the town center, burning its government compound and threatening elders, officials and a resident said Friday.
A resident of Musa Qala said 200-300 Taliban fighters had seized the town, taken weapons from the police and destroyed the government center late Thursday.
Col. Tom Collins, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, said an "unknown number" of militants had apparently entered Musa Qala and that NATO had conflicting reports about tribal elders temporarily being taken hostage.
Asadullah Wafa, the governor of Helmand province, said the militants came into the town Wednesday, disarmed the police force and then returned Thursday and destroyed part of the compound housing the district's governor and police.
"People have closed down the shops this morning and those living near the area have moved out of fear," he said.
Mohammad Wali, a resident of Musa Qala who estimated that between 200-300 fighters were in the town, said residents were fearful that fighting between NATO and militants would resume.
Collins said no ISAF forces were involved in the incident. He said he did not know how many Taliban militants had entered Musa Qala.
British forces are based in Helmand province but pulled out of Musa Qala in October after a peace agreement was signed between local elders and the Helmand governor with the support of the British troops. According to the deal the security responsibilities were turned over to local leaders, while NATO forces were prevented from entering the town.
The deal has been criticized by some Western officials as putting the area outside of government and NATO control. The town was the center of fierce clashes between British troops and resurgent Taliban militants last year before the peace deal was reached.
Also Friday, Afghan police clashed with suspected militants in western Afghanistan, killing at least 12 of the fighters, officials said.
Gen. Abdul Rahman, head of Afghanistan's border police, said 12 militants died in the fight. However, Gen. Mohammad Daud Ahmadi, a border police official in Farah province, said 25 were killed. The reason for the discrepancy was not immediately clear.
Three policemen were wounded during the six-hour battle in Delaram district of Farah province, said Ahmadi.