Taliban militants attacked Pakistani tribal leaders near the Afghan border, triggering a gunbattle and an explosion that killed seven people, an official said Tuesday.

The clash happened late Monday in Bajur, a lawless region in Pakistan's northwest where troops and tribal militias have been battling Taliban guerrillas for more than three months.

Israr Khan, a government representative in the semi-autonomous region, said Taliban gunmen surrounded a group of elders from the Mamund tribe in a fortress-like compound in the village of Inayat Kili.

An hourslong gunbattle between the two sides killed a commander of the Taliban fighters as well as two guards in the compound, Khan said. Four elders also died when an explosion hit the compound, he said. It was unclear what caused the blast.

Taliban spokesman Maulvi Umar confirmed the death of a militant commander in Monday's clash.

Pakistani and U.S. officials have applauded efforts by some tribal leaders to establish militias to fight Taliban and Al Qaeda militants blamed for attacks on foreign troops in Afghanistan as well as targets in Pakistan.

The militias' emergence in Bajur and other parts of Pakistan's northwest has drawn comparisons with so-called Awakening Councils that helped turned the tide against Al Qaeda in Iraq.

However, some observers warn that arming more groups in the impoverished border region will only sustain the anarchy in which violent extremism has flourished.

Militants have repeatedly attacked pro-government elders in shooting and suicide bomb attacks in recent months, killing scores.

He claimed that the Taliban captured seven elders and said their fate will be decided by Maulvi Faqir Mohammed, the Taliban leader in Bajur.

Khan said three people kidnapped by the insurgents returned to their homes on Tuesday but that several Mamund elders were missing.