Army sends helicopters to back villagers' revolt against Taliban

Pakistan has sent army helicopters to support villagers fighting the Taliban in Upper Dir district, which borders the Swat valley. Hundreds took up arms against the Taliban on Saturday, a day after a suicide bomber killed 38 people at a mosque.


AFP - Pakistan's military sent helicopter gunships to a northwest region Tuesday to support armed villagers who have risen up against Taliban to avenge a deadly mosque blast, an official said.

Hundreds of tribesmen in Upper Dir district took up arms Saturday, a day after 38 people were killed in a mosque suicide bombing there, and have stormed villages where extremists are holed up killing 14 fighters, the army has said.

The militia -- known locally as a lashkar -- were on Tuesday surrounding Shatkas and Ghazigai villages, where militants are believed to be hiding.

Upper Dir borders Swat valley, the centre of a fierce six-week military offensive aimed at crushing a Taliban insurgency.

"Lashkar men are positioned on surrounding mountains and keeping a vigil on the movement of Taliban militants," said a military official who did not want to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

He said army helicopter gunships and artillery pounded suspected militant hideouts in Upper Dir, adding: "The shelling was in support of the lashkar."

Pakistan's government has in the past encouraged the formation of lashkar militias to help the official armed forces in their fight against militants, and say they want to build up and arm such community forces in the northwest.

Up to 1,200 villagers carrying firearms are reported to have taken on about 200 Taliban in a handful of remote Upper Dir hamlets.

Friday's mosque bombing was the latest in a series of attacks on civilian and security targets -- attacks widely seen as retribution by Islamist extremists for a blistering offensive by the Pakistan army.

 Pakistan launched its northwest push after the Taliban advanced to within 100 kilometres (60 miles) of Islamabad in early April, violating a deal to put three million people under sharia law in exchange for peace.

The offensive has the backing of the United States and enjoys broad popular support among Pakistanis exasperated by worsening Taliban-linked attacks, which have killed more than 1,960 people since July 2007.

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