Government forces clashed with Taliban fighters on Wednesday on the outskirts of the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, where fighting has been going on for most of the past week.
Since mid-September, Taliban fighters have broken out hundreds of inmates, many of them fellow militants, from two prisons amid mounting insecurity across Afghanistan.
The fighting in Lashkar Gah sparked fears of a possible repeat of what happened in Kunduz, the northern city that fell briefly to the Taliban last month, when insurgents freed hundreds of inmates from the city’s prison.
Just two weeks before, the Taliban sprang hundreds of prisoners in an attack on a detention centre in central Ghazni province.
“There was a rumour that the Taliban would attack the main prison when they were fighting with Afghan forces on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah,” said Helmand police spokesman Shah Mahmood Ashna. “We transferred some of the most dangerous prisoners to Kabul.”
Concerns over further raids on the country’s substandard prisons added to the government’s worries over the spreading Taliban campaign.
If the Lashkar Gah prison were breached, the release of Taliban prisoners into Helmand, an insurgency stronghold, could bolster their position in the fiercely contested region.
In the last year, militants have repeatedly attacked prisons in restive areas. Most have been repelled, but after Ghazni and Kunduz, security was ramped up, said Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior.
“The minister was very serious to instruct police to provide maximum security to prisons in vulnerable areas,” he said. “They are on high alert.”