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GHAZNI, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Taliban fighters launched a three-pronged attack on parts of the central-eastern Afghan city of Ghazni overnight, driving a Humvee packed with explosives into the entrance of a district governor's compound during the assault, police said on Saturday.
The assault on Ghazni, on the highway linking the capital Kabul with the southern city of Kandahar, ramps up the Taliban's spring offensive and comes as U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis prepares to present recommendations to President Donald Trump on future troop levels in Afghanistan.
In the north of the country, the Taliban has stepped up its operations and targeted Kunduz, a city that they have twice managed to seize for brief periods in the past.
The Taliban have had a strong presence in the province of Ghazni for years, but provincial police chief Aminullah Amerkhil said the overnight attack from three directions was the fiercest launched by the insurgents. However, he said his men had held out.
Hashim Zwak, the police chief of Waghaz district, was wounded in the hand during the fighting. He described how the militants drove a Humvee packed with explosives into the entrance of the district governor's compound and blew it up before other fighters tried to overrun the police defenders.
"They put all their effort into it but they could not defeat us," Zwak told Reuters from a hospital in Ghazni city.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said, however, that the fighters had gained control of Waghaz district, straddling the highway to the south of the city and fighting was continuing in other areas.
He said several members of the security forces had been killed and many vehicles destroyed along with weapons and ammunition.
The provincial police chief said the Taliban had suffered far heavier casualties, with 25 fighters killed, while only two members of the security forces died.
"The Taliban put all their pressure on Afghan security forces to take control of at least one district but we fought well and pushed them back," Amerkhil said.
(Reporting by Mustafa Andalib, writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)