A village militia has killed at least 23 Taliban militants during fierce gunbattles in Pakistan's lawless tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, officials said on Tuesday.
The clashes occurred on Monday and overnight in the Mohmand tribal district in Anbar village, about 15 kilometres (nine miles) southwest of Khar, the main town in the neighbouring tribal district of Bajaur, another Islamist hotspot.
"According to reports received here, a lashkar (traditional tribal militia) killed 23 militants and several others were wounded," local administration official Asad Ali Khan told AFP.
Another administration official Mohammad Rasul Khan said three villagers were missing after the clashes pitted a 150-strong village force against about 100 militants.
"The laskhar has fought very well and militants are now on the run," he said, adding that villagers had gone into the mountains to take on the rebels.
Intelligence and security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to release information to the media, confirmed the fighting and the death toll.
Hundreds of Islamist fighters are believed to have fled Afghanistan into Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal areas to carve out safe havens after the US-led invasion toppled the hardline Taliban regime in Kabul in late 2001.
Pakistani troops have fought increasingly against Taliban militants in recent years, with the country suffering from a deadly Islamist backlash that has killed about 2,000 people in bomb attacks in the last two years.
Pakistan is encouraging locals to organise lashkars against militants in several northwestern regions, where the country's traditional army with equipment shortages has found it difficult to eradicate insurgents.
Security forces launched a huge operation against Islamist militants in Bajaur and Mohmand last August. In February, they said the area had been cleared after months of fierce fighting, but unrest has rumbled on.