MARJAH (AFP) - The Afghan flag was raised over a town at the centre of a US-led offensive on a Taliban stronghold Thursday which a US commander called historic but stopped short of declaring victory. Afghanistans red, green and black flag was hoisted over Marjah by the governor of Helmand province, watched over by senior US, British and Afghan commanders and a crowd of several hundred residents. Brigadier General Larry Nicholson, commander of US Marines in southern Afghanistan declared it a historical day as authority over the area was handed to Governor Mohammand Gulab Mangal after 12 days of fighting. Its a very historical day, a new beginning, Nicholson told AFP at the ceremony attended by several hundred residents, watched over by US Marine snipers stationed on the roofs of surrounding buildings. They are voting with their eyes, and they believe there is a fresh start for Marjah under the government of Afghanistan, he said. Speaking from Helmand capital Lashkar Gah, provincial spokesman Daud Ahmadi said the civilian government had taken over responsibility. But tight security on the ground and reports that Taliban fighters were still active in parts of Marjah, made it unclear how close the combined forces are to a true victory. If the Taliban see me talking to you, theyll kill me, an elderly man with a white beard told NATO troops in Showal, Nad Ali district, sliding his thumb across his throat. But in contrast to the celebratory language, the Taliban said that outside the main Marjah bazaar their fighters still held sway. Our mujahideen are still in Marjah and still fighting, and the people are still with us, fighting the American invading forces, spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location. NATO said shops and clinics had re-opened in Marjah and new shops were offering telephones, computers and other electronics... alongside fresh fruits and vegetables. The alliances civilian representative to Afghanistan, Mark Sedwill, said the offensive was moving deliberately slowly to avoid killing civilians. Telling the BBC that avoiding civilian deaths has to be the priority, he said: We could have been through this area in a conventional operation in a matter of hours or in a day or so but this is why it is taking some time. The formal flag-raising follows a fleeting visit to a crossroads bazaar by Mangal last week, when an Afghan soldier raised the national flag on a bamboo poll even as fighting continued in other areas of Marjah.