12 killed as Taliban, locals clash in Pakistan

September 30th, 2008 - 12:40 am ICT by IANS  

TalibanIslamabad, Sep 29 (DPA) At least 12 people were killed Monday when Taliban militants and local tribesmen exchanged heavy gunfire in Pakistan’s restive tribal district of Bajaur, security officials said.The fighting started when an army of volunteers from the Salarzai tribe tried to set ablaze the houses of the insurgents.

Pakistani soldiers launched an operation in Bajaur early August to retake a strategically important checkpoint from the rebels along the Afghan border.

“At least nine locals and three Taliban militants, including their commander in the area, Abdul Mutallab, died in the firefight, while six more people were injured,” a security official said requesting anonymity.

In some areas of Bajaur, locals have been defying the Taliban and its hard-line Shariah law.

Members of three tribes - the Salarzai, Tarkhani and Utmankhel - have announced they intend to defend their respective areas against the fundamentalist Islamic group that ruled Afghanistan until it was ousted in late 2001 in a US-led invasion.

Bajaur is a stronghold of Al Qaeda and Taliban militants for launching crossborder attacks on the international forces in Afghanistan.

Some military experts said success by Pakistani forces against Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters in Bajaur would be a major breakthrough in the fight against rising Islamic militancy in the country.

So far, more than 500 militants and dozens of soldiers have died in the operation.

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