- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2007

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan — Tribal militias have killed dozens of foreign militants with purported al Qaeda ties along the Afghan border, officials said yesterday, in an offensive Pakistan has declared a victory against terrorism.

Officials say local tribes mustered a wave of new fighters with a beat of drums this week, bolstering their nearly three-week-old assault on foreigners living in the lawless South Waziristan region.

The last 24 hours of fighting left 50 Uzbek militants, 10 tribesmen and one Pakistani soldier dead, said three security officials, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

More than 250 people have been killed since the fighting started March 19, the vast majority of them Uzbeks, Chechens and Tajiks and their local allies, officials have said.

Insecurity in the region, where the government has minimal control, puts it largely off-limits to reporters, making it hard to verify what little information emerges.

Hundreds of Central Asian militants have settled over the past two decades in Pakistan’s remote border zone, where they formed alliances with some of the tribes and married into local clans.

Some came to fight in the Afghan war against Soviet forces in the 1980s, others to escape U.S. forces that drove the Taliban and al Qaeda from Afghanistan in 2001 or repression in their home countries.

Gen. Pervez Musharraf, whom the United States considers an ally in the fight against terrorism, has failed to prevent Taliban militants from finding sanctuary and support in the same region for their insurgency in Afghanistan.

However, the government has cracked down more visibly on suspected al Qaeda affiliates. It scaled back army operations in the border region last year under a series of agreements for tribal leaders to disarm or expel foreigners living there.

The Pakistani government says the recent bloodshed vindicates its strategy of relying on tribal leaders to combat militancy.

On Monday, a council of elders in Wana, South Waziristan’s main town, declared jihad, or holy war, against the Central Asians, accusing them of disregarding local traditions and killing tribesmen, and beat traditional war drums to raise a militia.

“Over the past two days there were efforts to raise a lashkar,” or tribal militia, Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said. “They have sent 200 people and they will send more” to fight the foreigners, he said.

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