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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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In the short term, "the Army is operating on a very wide front, and it has its own difficulties with logistics and [finding] the right manpower ratios," says Khalid Aziz, head of the Regional Institute of Policy Research and Training, a think tank in Peshawar.

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And in the long run, "security should not be provided by the military, but by the communities," Mr. Aziz continues. "In Dir, unless the security side of community policing is institutionalized with a budget, funds, support, and linkages with military police, this will fall apart."

Farm duties tug at volunteer fighters

The Dir residents formed their lashkar on June 6, after Taliban militants living in the nearby mountains sent a suicide bomber to a mosque in Hayagay village. The attack killed 40 people, including 18 children, who were at Friday prayers. Before the attack, Hayagay residents had been trying to pressure the militants to leave once it became clear they were not the simple Afghan refugees they claimed to be.

Emboldened by their outrage and by the military's routing of the Taliban in nearby Swat and Buner, villagers surrounded the Taliban area and killed 47 militants. They lost three lashkar fighters.

Dispute over Army supplies

The area – which is mountainous and thickly forested – is still under siege from three sides, and the lashkar wants the Pakistan Army to hit the militant hideouts from the air to break the stalemate. Some volunteers in the lashkar, which is intended to be a temporary arrangement, are anxious to get home to harvest crops and look after their businesses.

The Army has provided some heavy guns to the lashkar, along with some skilled men to operate it, but those have also been taken back now, said one elder who wished not to be named.

The Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force under the Army that is in charge of Dir security, denies this. "Everything provided from Day 1 is still with them. Nothing has been withdrawn," says Maj.Fazal Rahman, the spokesman for the Corps.

"We are providing them all sort of moral and material support," he continues. "They [the lashkar members] keep complaining to get more and more from government agencies, and I think we have already given them enough to fight these militants."

Taliban reinforcements arrive

The lashkar leaders say the situation on the ground has changed dramatically in the past three or four days. On Tuesday night, Mutabbar Khan, head of the lashkar, held a meeting with the district administration in Dir to drive this home. The local official assured them of support, saying he wanted the government to come to the villagers' rescue.

Asked Tuesday afternoon if the Frontier Corps would step in to help with airstrikes or a ground invasion, the spokesman did not rule it out.

"At the moment, I can't give the answer to this question," says Major Rahman. "The Frontier Corps is busy in many other places in the operation. If there's a need we may go to those areas."