The town of Musa Qala is situated in the northern section of Helmand Province -- the world's largest poppy-growing region and scene of the heaviest fighting in Afghanistan this year. Militants overran the town last winter and held it for 10 months, until Afghan, British and US troops retook it last week.
As they secure Musa Qala, British and Afghan troops continue to pursue Taliban, Arab and Chechen fighters on the outskirts of the town and into the neighboring districts, said Brigadier Andrew Mackay, the commander of British troops in southern Afghanistan.
"Securing Musa Qala is a major blow to the Taliban," Mackay said as he rode on the back of an Afghan National Army truck through the streets of the town. "The most important part of this operation is the reconstruction and development ... that is how the operation should be judged."
Officials say clinics, schools and a mosque will be built, as will military outposts, to let residents know the Afghan army and British soldiers are there to stay. Extending governance in the area where the Taliban ran courts and collected taxes is crucial.
The Afghan government plans to hire some 1,500 Musa Qala residents, paying them US$20 a day to do cleanup work and construction, though very little of the town suffered damage in the fighting.
"It is our intent to make people believe that the government of Afghanistan is here to stay, and the [Afghan National Army] providing the security," said Captain Tim Brewer, 28, from Southampton, England.
Although the militants were chased out of town they will still try to come back into Musa Qala, Mackay said.
"What is very important is that the population does not allow them to, with our help," he said.
Engineers were already at work building an Afghan military outpost in the city, while British troops set up their base on the town's outskirts.
Afghan men in black and blue turbans and young boys loitered in the street Saturday as Afghan and British troops conducted foot patrols through town.
Three barefoot little girls in flowery dresses sat in the portico of an unfinished shop, following the soldiers with their eyes. None waved hello to the passing troops.
Other soldiers -- many caked in the fine dust that permeates the region -- were stationed on rooftops overlooking the dessert surrounding them and the rocky hills to the north.
As a reminder of the dangers that troops face here, two rockets slammed into Musa Qala on Saturday, causing no casualties.
Afghan officials say hundreds of Taliban were either killed or wounded in the operation to recapture Musa Qala and subsequent fighting in the region.
"Tactically they are very good at fighting and they know the ground, and that always helps them," Mackay told a dozen journalists who visited the town on a trip organized by NATO's International Security Assistance Force.
Mackay wouldn't say how many militants were killed in the battle.
"A lot of them," he said.
Between 15,000 and 20,000 people live in Musa Qala, with another 25,000 or so residents living in the outlying areas.
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