Eighty militants were killed when security forces mounted a counterattack after a major Taliban offensive on Lashkargah city in Helmand province on Sunday night, the Afghan interior ministry said.

Videos shared on social media by accounts associated with the Taliban showed fighters, along with many minors, allegedly marching to Helmand to take over one of Afghanistan’s largest provincial capitals.

Afghan security officials told The National that they had thwarted the attack. Afghan National Defence Security Forces “responded against the Taliban fighters’ offensive, and in response killed 80 Taliban fighters”, said Tariq Arian, the interior ministry spokesman.

“We do not have any reported civilian casualties, including children,” he said when asked about the children seen walking with the fighters in the videos. While the Taliban does recruit child soldiers, the children in the video do not appear to be among those used as fighters.

Omar Zwak, spokesman for the Helmand governor’s office, confirmed the counter-offensive.

“We launched an operation last night, including air strikes [and] special forces in Nahre Siraj and Nawa area,” Mr Zwak said.

“We are trying to get the situation back under control.”

The Afghan forces had moved towards Lashkargah gradually to avoid civilian casualties, he said.

The Taliban had captured parts of the city by Monday morning, but later updates from security force officials said they had reclaimed the majority of the capital and clearance operations were under way.

Residents flee the fighting. The clashes comes as both the Taliban and Afghan government are in the process of taking the peace talks forward in Doha, Qatar. EPA
Residents flee the fighting. The clashes comes as both the Taliban and Afghan government are in the process of taking the peace talks forward in Doha, Qatar. EPA

Witnesses described numerous battles between the Taliban and security forces in various parts of the city and surrounding districts overnight. The attacks forced many residents of the areas close to the fighting to flee their homes.

“Last night Taliban forces came to our neighbourhood and knocked on all our doors asking us to leave our houses,” said Abdul Jalil, a resident of Nad Ali district, about 25 kilometres from Lashkargah.

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