Afghan and British forces occupy the centre of Musa Qala this afternoon, according to reports which indicate the Taliban have withdrawn from the town. PM visits troops as forces enter Musa Qala Soldier killed after cancelling leave to fight the Taliban Brown flies to Iraq and hints at British withdrawal soon
"Our forces are inside the town and the clean-up operation is ongoing," said General Zahir Azimi, the spokesman for the Afghan Defence Ministry.
|It is thought poor weather provided cover for the Taliban forces to withdraw from Musa Qala|
Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Taliban, confirmed the group's forces had left but added the decision to depart was made to protect civilians in the town after Nato bombing raids.
The operation to retake Musa Qala, led by Afghan forces, began on Friday afternoon.
The town had been a Taliban stronghold since February, when a controversial British-backed truce to give local security to tribal elders broke down.
"Because of the massive bombings this morning, the Taliban didn't want to cause more casualties, so this afternoon all the Taliban left Musa Qala," the Taliban spokesman said.
"We lost Musa Qala at noon. Our forces withdrew northwards and southwards."
The spokesman claimed that Taliban fighters had overnight ambushed Afghan and British forces to the west of Musa Qala.
"We killed 17 British and Afghan soldiers and captured four Afghans alive," he said.
"Many of the dead bodies were foreign soldiers. The British have got really angry because of this and started bombing Musa Qala. They were bombing everywhere this morning and killed 40 civilians."
There has been no confirmation of the Taliban claims, which in the past have often proved unreliable.
One frontline commander with forces in Musa Qala, Mullah Ahmad Muslim, said: "Our forces have withdrawn. We have some people in the city who have already put mines. Listen, we will give the foreign forces a lesson that they won't forget.
"We are using different tactics. It was the advice of our elders to save the civilians by withdrawing from the city. It doesn't mean we have left the district. We just left the town to avoid the civilian casualties."
The commander said he was speaking from near the town of Sangin to the south of Musa Qala. Battle for Taliban stronghold intensifies Map: Key areas in Afghan fightingFrontline: Our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan
Haji Mohammad Naim Khan, a member of the Provincial Council of Helmand who spoke to his brother in Musa Qala by satellite phone, said that Afghan troops were on the streets of the town.
"People are not being allowed to leave their homes," he said.
The Telegraph understands that poor weather conditions, including fog, may have provided cover for the Taliban withdrawal.
One source told the Telegraph: "The weather has closed in. We are a bit unsighted."
People in the provincial capital Lashkargar confirmed that bad weather arrived overnight with heavy rain this morning.
Nato spokesman Major Charles Anthony said operations were continuing this afternoon "outside the town of Musa Qala".
The Telegraph understands that special forces units from Britain and a number of other Nato nations, including the United States, were deployed ahead of the operation with the express intention of cutting off any Taliban attempt to stage a tactical withdrawal northwards.
To the north of Musa Qala lies Bagran district and the province of Uruzgan, mountainous areas which the Taliban have previously used as a safe haven.