The Taliban has in the past 24 hours launched a huge offensive in the southern Helmand province of Afghanistan as the United States failed to keep to the May 1 deadline to withdraw its troops.

Afghan security forces have, however, launched counter-air strikes and deployed elite commando forces to the area to fight back the militants, officials have said.

“There was a thunderstorm of heavy weapons and blasts in the city and the sound of small arms was like someone was making popcorn,” Mulah Jan, a resident of a suburb of the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, told Reuters Agency.

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“I took all my family members to the corner of the room, hearing the heavy blasts and bursts of gunfire as if it was happening behind our walls,” he said. Families that could afford to leave had fled, but he had been unable to go, waiting with his family in fear before the Taliban were pushed back.

The head of Helmand’s provincial council also confirmed the development.

Attaullah Afghan disclosed that the Taliban had launched their huge offensive on Monday from multiple directions, attacking checkpoints around the outskirts of Lashkar Gah and taken over some of them.

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He added that the fighting between the insurgents and the country’s army has continued into Tuesday since it started on Monday and hundreds of families had been displaced.

The Defence Ministry said just over 100 Taliban fighters had been killed in Helmand, the Reuter reported. However, further details were not provided particularly regarding casualties recorded on the part of Afgan troops. The Taliban is yet to respond to requests for comment.

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Although the United States did not meet the May 1 withdrawal deadline agreed in talks with the Taliban last year, its pull-out started on that same day. President Joe Biden earlier rescinded the agreement as he announced that the final pullout will end by Sept. 11. But critics of the decision to withdraw say the militants will try to sweep back into power.

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