In a separate development, in northeastern Afghanistan, bodies of hundreds of Afghan civilians presumably killed during communist rule have been uncovered in a mass grave, officials and witnesses said on Thursday.
 

Taliban ambush

 

In Wednesday's clash, according to Ali Kheil, a spokesman for the governor of Zabul province, Afghan security forces were ambushed and they battled Taliban fighters for about an hour in the Shahjoy district before an air strike was called in against Taliban positions.

 

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Authorities recovered the bodies of 35 fighters along with 20 motorcycles and their weapons, Kheil said.

 

No casualties were reported among the Afghan security forces.

 

The number of casualties could not be independently confirmed.

 

Late on Wednesday, a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol in Zabul's Shinkay district killed a policeman and wounded four others, Kheil said.

 

Canadian troops

 

Also on Wednesday, a bomb blast in the south killed two Canadian soldiers and wounded three others, Colonel Mike Cessford, deputy commander of the Canadian contingent in Afghanistan, said.

 

Cessford did not disclose the exact location of the attack. Most of the Canadian troops in the Nato-led force in Afghanistan are based in the southern province of Kandahar.

 

The blast occurred three days after a roadside bomb killed six Canadian troops in the south. There are about 2,500 Canadian troops in the 36,000-strong Nato force in Afghanistan.

 

Anti-Taliban offensive

 

As Nato pushes forward with its biggest-ever anti-Taliban offensive in southern Afghanistan, Robert Gates, the US secretary of defence, was in Canada on Thursday to press allies to contribute more forces, equipment and other resources to Afghanistan.

 

Gates is pressing allies for more Nato forces,
equipment and funding for Afghanistan [AFP]

Gates was set to meet with military leaders from Britain, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Denmark and Romania - all partners in southern Afghanistan.

 

Nato and the US have made repeated calls for additional resources from allies, but have met resistance from some, including the French and Germans, who questioned the wisdom of sending more troops to Afghanistan.

 

Each year Taliban fighters have stepped up their attacks as the spring thaw begins.

 

But this year, Gates said Nato should take the offensive and bring the fight first to the Taliban.

 

Mass graves

 

The suspected communist-era grave uncovered on Thursday is located in the desert just outside the town of Faizabad, provincial capital of Badakhshan province, bordering China, Tajikistan and Pakistan.

 

Officials said bone fragments were found when residents began building new houses in the area recently.

 

Sibghatullah Khaksari, the head of a local government agency that searches for and exhumes the victims of decades of conflict, told Reuters at the site: "So far, we have dug out some 400 bodies."

 

Authorities feared there could be more bodies.

 

The victims were among the first killed by officials of the pro-communist government that came to power in 1978, a year before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, officials said.

 

Almost two million Afghans died during the 10-year Soviet occupation and subsequent factional fighting among the groups that drove the Red Army out.

 

Tens of thousands were killed or buried alive for resisting or staging uprisings against the occupation across the country.