At least 23 Taliban militants have been killed in fresh fighting, most of them in overnight clashes with Pakistani village militias, officials said on Tuesday. Islamabad is increasingly relying on local lashkar militias to help rout Taliban forces.
AFP - Fighting in Pakistan's lawless tribal belt killed at least 23 Taliban militants and destroyed an oil tanker supplying NATO forces posted across the border in Afghanistan, officials said Tuesday.
The deadliest clashes involved a village militia, officials said, reflecting the state's increasing reliance on local tribesmen to battle Islamist radicals allegedly plotting attacks in this region and in the West.
The worst violence occurred Monday and overnight in the village of Anbar in Mohmand district, 15 kilometres (nine miles) southwest of the Islamist hotspot of Khar, in neighbouring Bajaur district.
"According to reports received here, a lashkar (traditional tribal militia) killed 23 militants and several others were wounded," local administration official Asad Ali Khan told AFP.
Administration official Mohammad Rasul Khan said three villagers were missing after the clashes between a 150-strong village force and militants.
"The lashkar has fought very well and militants are now on the run," he said, adding that villagers had gone into the mountains to take on the rebels.
Islamist insurgents routinely escape into the mountains after gunfights in built-up areas, and authorities are frequently criticised for not mobilising adequate manpower into terrain where guerrillas can easily disappear.
Intelligence and security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to release information to the media, confirmed the fighting and the death toll.
In the infamous Khyber region, militants ambushed a tanker carrying fuel for NATO forces in Afghanistan and an ensuing gunfight killed two civilians and wounded three others, said an official with the Khyber regional administration, Rehan Gul Khattak.
The attack took place near the town of Landi Kotal on the main highway which links Pakistan to landlocked Afghanistan.
"Militants first fired a mortar on the oil tanker and then set it on fire. Meanwhile a gunfight broke out with paramilitary troops which left two civilians dead and three others wounded," Khattak said.
The ambush was staged by around 30 militants, who fled after the exchange of fire, he said. The highway was temporarily closed, but NATO supply convoys were halted even after the road re-opened, Khattak said.
Pakistani troops have led campaigns against Taliban militants in recent years, in a bid to counter a deadly Islamist backlash that has killed about 2,000 people in bomb attacks in the last two years.
Hundreds of Islamist fighters are believed to have fled Afghanistan into Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal areas to carve out safe havens after the US-led invasion toppled the hardline Taliban regime in Kabul in late 2001.
Pakistan is encouraging locals to organise lashkars against militants in several northwestern regions, where the country's traditional army, hampered by equipment shortages, has found it difficult to operate.
Security forces launched a huge operation against Islamist militants in Bajaur and Mohmand last August. In February, they said the area had been cleared after months of fierce fighting, but unrest has rumbled on.
Date created : 2009-07-14