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Two top Taliban leaders are besieged, Afghans say

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Radio intercepts indicate two top Taliban commanders are with dozens of rebels battling in the southern mountains against a blistering barrage from Afghan and US forces, senior government officials said yesterday.

The death toll from three days of fighting was reported at 114, including 102 insurgents. Afghan officials said they had dealt the insurgency a body blow, but such claims have been made many times in a war that refuses to wind down.

Many Afghans fear an upsurge in fighting since spring could be a sign that the insurgency is strengthening. Afghan and US officials have warned that violence could get worse before the parliamentary elections that are scheduled to be held in September.

Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Murad said the two commanders are Mullah Dadullah and Mullah Brader, both well known names in the Taliban rebellion who are accused of orchestrating attacks across much of Afghanistan's violence-ridden south.

''Afghan Army officials intercepted their radio conversations" coming from a mountainous area on the border between Kandahar and Zabul provinces that has been besieged by hundreds of Afghan and US troops and bombarded by attack aircraft, he said.

Before US-led forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001, Brader held many top jobs in the Islamic militia's hard-line regime, including being the commander in the capital, Kabul.

Dadullah, who has a wooden leg, was the top general in the country's north during the Taliban regime.

Associated Press writer Noor Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.

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