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Pakistanis fighting the Taliban press for military backup

Villagers in northwestern Dir have 250 militants under siege, but say they need help from security forces to prevail. The military has a poor record of aiding these volunteer militias.

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When villagers rose up against the Taliban in Dir district a month and a half ago, headlines cheered evidence of Pakistanis resisting militancy. But now, tribal elders say they are growing impatient that security forces haven't come to help, even as fresh waves of Taliban threaten to overwhelm their volunteer force.

Some 2,000 villagers in the northwestern district have kept 250 to 300 Taliban fighters under siege, but have failed to overrun the Taliban's defensive position. Over the past four days, Taliban reinforcements have been arriving from Swat and Kohistan, swelling militant ranks to 500, according to one village elder.

The volunteer militia, called a lashkar, initially felt confident enough to refuse help from the Pakistani Army. But lashkar leaders now say they are in dire need of manpower, arms, and ammunition.

"Now it is getting difficult, and we are threatened, because their number is increasing with each passing day," says Baboo Rahman, an elder with the Dir lashkar. "The lashkar people are also now fed up with continuous fighting, and we request the government should hit [the Taliban] from the air."

Waiting for military backup

For years, Pakistan has turned to lashkars as a means of tackling militants without launching destructive and sometimes unpopular military operations. But the government has a poor record of backing up these volunteers when, more often than not, they are outgunned or targeted for assassination.


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