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At least five killed in attack on govt buildings outside Kabul

At least five police officers were killed when Taliban militants attacked a provincial government building and a police headquarters outside Kabul with rocket and gunfire, local officials say.

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At least five people were killed when Taliban militants armed with guns and rockets attacked a provincial government and police headquarters near the Afghan capital Kabul on Monday, 10 days before nationwide elections, an official said.

Insurgents targeted the compound in Pul-i-Alam, a provincial capital 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Kabul, local government spokesman Din Mohammad Darwish told AFP.

"At 12:30 the governor's building came under rocket attack from close range," he said by telephone. Gunfire could be heard in the background.

"The attackers are surrounded in two multi-storey buildings from where they are exchanging fire with security forces," he said.

Rockets struck the governor's office, where there were no casualties, and the police headquarters, he said.

A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahed, claimed that six suicide attackers had entered the building and 21 people had been killed.

The hardline movement, which is leading an insurgency designed to topple the Western-backed government and has urged Afghans to boycott the presidential and provincial council elections, routinely exaggerates their claims.

Mounting Taliban violence, which is now at record levels, has threatened to overshadow the elections and could call into question the credibility of polls billed as a major landmark since the 2001 US-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime.

Electoral authorities said Monday that voting might have to be suspended in 10 districts unless the necessary security is in place ahead of the polls.

On Monday, the top US commander in Afghanistan was reported as saying the Taliban had gained the upper hand in the country, forcing the United States to change its strategy by upping the number of troops in heavily populated areas.

The Wall Street Journal quoted General Stanley McChrystal as saying in an interview the militant group was moving beyond its traditional strongholds in southern Afghanistan to threaten formerly stable areas in the north and west.

The militants are mounting sophisticated attacks that combine roadside bombs with ambushes by small teams of heavily-armed militants, causing significant numbers of US fatalities, the newspaper quoted the general as saying.

US President Barack Obama is in the midst of a buildup that will push US troop levels in the country to a record 68,000 by year end, as part of a drastic new strategy designed to counter the escalating violence.

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