The bodies of 76 suspected rebels were found in the mountains of southern Afghanistan, the Defense Ministry said Saturday, bringing to 178 the number of insurgents killed in one of the deadliest bombardments by U.S. forces since the Taliban militia was ousted in 2001.
U.S. military officers and Afghan officials, meanwhile, met near the mountainous battlefield with dozens of local tribal chiefs to urge them to help combat militants who are still holding out.
About 80 rebels are believed to still be hiding in the mountains. They include two well-known Taliban commanders, Mullah Dadullah and Mullah Brader.
A Defense Ministry spokesman, Zahir Marad, said that 56 suspected insurgents were captured as security forces pushed further into the rugged terrain and that troops were still pursuing rebels fleeing on horseback and motorcycle.
"Our forces have collected the bodies of 76 more rebels from the battlefield," he said, adding that the corpses had been scattered across a wide mountainous area.
The U.S. military's count of insurgents killed was much lower, at 56, but spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara said this did not necessarily mean the Afghan government's figure was wrong. Afghan forces had taken the lead in the operation, he said.
About 465 suspected insurgents have been reported killed since March, after snows melted on mountain tracks used by the rebels. In the same period, 29 U.S. troops, 38 Afghan police and soldiers and 125 civilians have been killed.