Pakistani Airstrike Pounds Taliban Stronghold, Kills at Least 12 Militants

Pakistani warplanes and helicopter gunships pounded Taliban positions in the country's volatile northwest on Saturday, killing at least 12 suspected insurgents, security officials said, as the government kept up pressure on Islamist militants along the Afghan border.

Elsewhere in the northwest, clashes between tribesmen and Taliban fighters left 16 people dead in the latest violence between pro-government tribal militias and insurgents.

The government airstrikes hit three suspected militant positions in the Orakzai region, part of the rugged, lawless tribal belt along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, two security officials said.

Twelve Taliban fighters were killed and nine more were wounded, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Mohammad Yasin, a government official in Orakzai, confirmed the attacks but did not have information on casualties. Access to the remote, dangerous region is restricted, and the death toll could not be independently verified.

The strikes took place in the same region where a military transport helicopter crashed on Friday, killing 26. On Saturday, the Taliban said that it shot down the helicopter, but the government has blamed the crash on a technical problem, although it also ordered an investigation.

Islamabad has ramped up the pressure on Taliban militants across the volatile northwest in recent months. It is preparing for an offensive in South Waziristan, a region of the tribal belt where top Taliban and al-Qaida leaders are believed to be hiding.

The U.S., which launched a major offensive against the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan this week, strongly supports Pakistan's efforts to crack down on militants on its side of the frontier, believing it could help the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.

The fighting between tribesmen and militants took place in the remote Mohmand region, which also lies along the Afghan frontier. Dozens of fighters attacked the tribal militia after receiving a warning from a council of tribal elders to leave the area, a local government official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Islamabad has encouraged local tribesmen in the semiautonomous frontier areas to establish militias — known as lashkars — to flush out Taliban fighters blamed for attacks in Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan.

Such groups have been set up in several regions but face stiff Taliban resistance.

Saturday's clash was the first major fighting in months between tribesmen and militants in the Mohmand tribal region. Tribal elders have begun to clear the area of militants after receiving a warning from the military that it would be forced to send in troops if the tribesmen failed to either kill or evict the insurgents.

Local security officials confirmed the clashes and the death toll.