Afghan and international forces have retaken a southern Afghan town held by Taliban militants since February, the Defense Ministry said Monday.

Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said Afghan, British and U.S. forces had "completely captured" Musa Qala, a town in the opium poppy growing belt of northern Helmand province. He said fighting is continuing around Musa Qala.

Afghan and international troops have stepped up operations around Musa Qala since early November, and fighting in the area has intensified in the last several days as forces advanced on the town.

Residents in Musa Qala told The Associated Press that Taliban militants fled the town's center Monday. A British military spokesman, Lt. Col. Richard Eaton, said he could not confirm that the Taliban had left the town's center but said he would not be surprised.

"This is what happens. We have had a number of operations in the past where once the Taliban realize they are overmatched, they tend to leave," Eaton said. "I wouldn't be surprised if that is the case here. Ultimately our aim is to take Musa Qala, and if we take Musa Qala without a big fight, that's fantastic."

Taliban militants overran Musa Qala in February, four months after British troops left the town following a contentious peace agreement that gave security responsibilities to Afghan elders.