About 100 Taliban fighters have been killed in five days of fighting with the government forces in southern Afghanistan after hundreds of armed rebels launched an offensive in the area to gain territory recently vacated by the US troops, officials have said.

Local officials in Helmand province said that more than 800 Taliban were involved in the clashes in which at least 21 Afghan soldiers and 40 civilians were also killed.

"About 800 fighters started to storm four districts of Helmand last Thursday night," Helmand provincial governor spokesman Omar Zwak told AFP news agency on Wednesday.

A government official in the capital, Kabul, also confirmed the figure of 800 Taliban fighters to the AFP.

The last US troops pulled out of Sangin district in the province last month, handing over their remaining bases to Afghan soldiers and the police.

Zwak said reinforcements had been sent to repel the attacks in Sangin, Nowzad, Kajaki and Musa Qala districts, where 2,000 families have fled the violence.

On Wednesday, the interior ministry confirmed the scale of the fighting in Helmand, but insisted that the Taliban fighters were being beaten back.

Poll fraud

"There was a major attack by the Taliban and their supporters," ministry spokesman Siddiq Siddiqi told AFP. "We have reports of a lot of enemy attackers over the last few days.

"We are reinforcing Afghan national security forces and have suffered no major loss of territory," he said.

A Taliban statement posted on Twitter said 44 government soldiers and two Taliban fighters were killed in clashes in the Kajaki district.

Haji Akhtar Mohammad, an elder in Sangin, told AFP that the fighters had placed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in villages and along roads used to transport supplies to Afghan government forces.

He added that civilians were running short of food due to the fighting.

The attacks come as Afghan politicians remain locked in a dispute over the ongoing election vote count, with presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah alleging massive fraud by his poll rival Ashraf Ghani, the election authorities and outgoing President Hamid Karzai.

The chief of the election commission has already resigned over the issue that is threatening the peaceful transfer of power.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies