Clashes in Orakzai kill 15

PESHAWAR: Gun battles between Taliban and a tribal militia killed 15 people on Monday in Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt on the border with Afghanistan, security officials said.

The clashes broke out when Taliban fighters attacked homes and trenches dug by the anti-Taliban militia in the Stoorikhel area of Orakzai district, 200 kilometres (125 miles) from northwestern city Peshawar, officials said.

Security officials said the Taliban destroyed several houses and killed nine men from a rival militia, which was set up to challenge the Islamists who hold sway in parts of Orakzai.

“They also killed local tribal elder Malik Sharif and took over his house,”one official said.

“We have reports that nine militia men and six militants have been killed. The fighting is still going on,” a security official based in the neighbouring garrison city of Kohat told AFP by telephone.

“There are casualties on both sides. Gun battles are continuing. Both sides are using heavy weapons,” said an intelligence official in the town of Hangu.

Hakimullah Mehsud, who heads the umbrella Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, comes from Orakzai and many Taliban fighters are believed to have fled to the area to escape an offensive against the group’s stronghold in South Waziristan.

Pakistan has encouraged locals to organise lashkars, or tribal militias, against militants in parts of the northwest, where the country’s traditional army with equipment shortages has found it difficult to eradicate insurgents.

Regular soldiers have launched numerous offensives in the tribal belt, but Washington is increasing pressure on Islamabad to do more against Al-Qaeda and stop insurgents crossing the border to attack Western troops in Afghanistan. –AFP

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