Miana Shien, Afghanistan, — Afghan forces scouring mountains in southern Afghanistan after some of the deadliest fighting since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 have found the bodies of another 76 rebels, the Defense Ministry said Saturday.
The new fatalities bring the death toll to 178 from fighting in the Miana Shien district of Kandahar province since Tuesday, ministry spokesman Zahir Marad said.
"Our forces have collected the bodies of 76 more rebels from the battlefield," he said.
Marad said he had not received any reports from Afghan army commanders as to whether the fighting was still continuing.
Gen. Salim Khan, a police commander on the battlefield, said Friday that the guns had fallen silent, but his forces have kept up their pursuit of rebels fleeing on horseback and motorcycle.
Meanwhile, government and U.S. military leaders met Saturday in Miana Shien with about 35 tribal chiefs to try to end fighting.
Dozens of Afghan and American troops guarded the meeting, which took place in a tent on a deserted field surrounded by mountains, and was attended by the governors of Zabul and Kandahar provinces, a U.S. military commander and other top officials.
Ali Khail, a spokesman for the Zabul governor, said the officials urged the tribal leaders to cooperate in "fighting off the Taliban." "The government is also trying to find out why the Taliban is so active in the region," Khail told The Associated Press.
About 80 rebels were still believed to be in the mountains holding out against Afghan and coalition forces.
Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Marad said two Taliban commanders, Mullah Dadullah and Mullah Brader, are believed to be surrounded in the mountainous region. Both are well-known names in the Taliban rebellion, accused of orchestrating attacks across much of Afghanistan”s violence-ridden south.