Army Chiefs are drawing up plans to withdraw British troops from outlying bases in Afghanistan. In what would be a significant change of strategy against the growing Taliban insurgency, they are considering abandoning several bases including Musa Qala, the scene of bloody battles that claimed 15 British lives. Army forces would attempt to hold only the larger towns in Helmand province. It is understood the new retrenchment strategy is backed by the head of the army, General Sir David Richards. Gordon Brown has yet to take a final decision, however. Ministers are concerned the new strategy would be branded defeatist. Quitting Musa Qala risks provoking a backlash from the families of soldiers who died there. The town was captured in 2007 by the Taliban after British troops withdrew and retaken by Nato forces in a costly operation later that year. A senior British commander said: The new strategy will have to be handled sensitively. But we cant do everything, everywhere. We must concentrate our efforts in a few geographical areas. We have to select specific areas to hold and then do the job properly. The retrenchment plan comes after a week when the former Middle East minister Kim Howells sparked a political debate by demanding the total withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan. In other developments last night: It emerged that the Afghan policeman who shot dead five British soldiers last week may have been driven by a grudge against a senior Afghan officer, a man he accused of repeatedly beating and raping him; A new ComRes poll for the BBC indicated that 64% of the public feel that the war is unwinnable, up from 58% in July; Two separate friendly fire incidents claimed the lives of seven US troops and eight Afghan soldiers. In an interview with The Sunday Times, Bob Ainsworth, the defence secretary, confirmed that British efforts would in future focus on the large towns in central Helmand that are home to most of the provinces 1m population. He said: Main population centres are whats important. It is the people that are important, not the geography of the country. Ainsworth added: Our efforts have been on the main central belt between Gereshk and Lashkar Gah, and quite rightly so. However, he refused to confirm that Musa Qala would be abandoned. He said: We have got forces in Musa Qala. They have been doing a good job and have a level of control in the area. I dont see why we should go backwards in that regard. Military chiefs are concerned that Musa Qala, with a population of less than 20,000, ties up several hundred British soldiers, who have to be supplied by scarce helicopters or risky land convoys. The attempt to hold on to such remote outposts has been dubbed the tethered goat strategy by critics, who claim the Nato military presence in Afghanistan causes more harm than good by attracting attacks. A second base earmarked for closure is Now Zad, another northern town where Nato forces have struggled against the Taliban. No final decision will be taken until Barack Obama, the US president, announces whether he will accede to the request of General Stanley McChrystal, the Nato commander in Afghanistan, for a surge of up to 40,000 troops. Ainsworth made it clear that he was concerned about the length of time it had taken Obama to reach a decision. I dont criticise the American authorities for wanting to go into it in great detail, but, yes, we do need a decision, he said. I hoped that we would have got to a decision before now. If you asked me a month or so ago, I would have thought we would have had more clarity before now. Yesterday Obamas national security adviser, James Jones, added to the confusion over US strategy, saying there was no guarantee that sending extra troops would solve Natos problems. He warned they could just be swallowed up. Senior sources say that towns such as Musa Qala may have to be abandoned even if thousands more Nato troops are sent to Helmand. If we do send more troops it will be for thickening, not expanding, explained one British official. Any partial withdrawal plan is likely be resisted by Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, who is reluctant to cede any sovereign Afghan territory to the Taliban. Any withdrawal would only occur after local communities had been given weapons to protect themselves. The new tactics are being devised in response to McChrystals recent report on Afghan strategy, which said: We must do things differently even uncomfortably differently. Military commanders hope that pacifying main population centres will allow greater economic development and prosperity for most people in Helmand. McChrystals report added: We have to create momentum that the people can clearly see and benefit from if we are to deliver enduring success.(The Sunday Times)