Alexa

Pakistan fighting leaves 18 dead

Pakistan fighting leaves 18 dead

Taliban insurgents tried to abduct the chief of a pro-government militia in northwestern Pakistan on Sunday, prompting one of several battles that left 18 people dead.
The government has hailed the emergence of anti-Taliban tribal militias as evidence that it can root out militants waging an insurgency in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The militias, known as lashkars, have been compared to the so-called awakening councils that have helped U.S. forces turn the tables against al-Qaida in Iraq.
However, there are doubts that the Pakistani groups can stand up to heavily armed militants who have seized swaths of Pakistan's border belt and are believed to have forged close ties to al-Qaida.
The botched kidnapping occurred in Swat, a picturesque valley once popular with tourists where government forces have been battling militants for more than a year.
Swat police official Shah Nazar Khan said a group of assailants was leading militia chief Pir Samiullah from his home in the Mandalag area toward a car when dozens of local tribesmen confronted them.
Three Taliban fighters and four tribesmen were killed in the ensuring shootout, in which Samiullah escaped, Khan said. He said some tribesmen were reportedly missing.
Muslim Khan, a militant spokesman in the valley, confirmed the clash but said only three Taliban died. He said 12 tribesmen were killed and another 62 abducted.
Insecurity and government restrictions make it virtually impossible to verify the accounts of the fighting.
While the militia in Mandalag is the first to emerge in Swat, several tribes have swung behind the government in Bajur, a nearby region that has also seen heavy fighting.
Jamil Khan, a government representative in Bajur, said eight insurgents died and several others were injured when helicopters and artillery shelled several areas Sunday morning.
Three more insurgents died in a gunbattle at a checkpoint in Tang Khata, a village supposedly under the control of security forces, Khan said. He said there were no troop casualties.
Pakistan's army launched an offensive in Bajur in early August after officials declared it a "mega-sanctuary" for militants filtering over the border into Afghanistan.
The operation has drawn praise from U.S. officials but faces criticism in Pakistan, where many blame their country's alliance with the United States for escalating violence on their own soil.
"It seems our army is committed to creating a separatist movement" in the ethnic Pashtun-dominated northwest," said Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the head of Pakistan's largest Islamist party. "It is committed to shed the blood of our own people to fulfill American designs."
As well as killing 1,500 militants and 71 troops, the army acknowledged for the first time on Saturday that 95 civilians had died in Bajur. Nearly 200,000 more fled their homes.
While Washington has pressed for action against militants, the government has offered to negotiate with groups who lay down their arms, seeking to reduce the violence that has contributed to Pakistan's economic problems.
The South Asian country is in talks with the International Monetary Fund and other lenders about receiving help to ward off a balance of payments crisis and prevent it from defaulting on its foreign debts.
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Associated Press writers Riaz Khan in Peshawar and Habib Khan in Khar contributed to this report.