By Ibrahim Shinwari
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - At least fifteen people were killed when Taliban militants attacked a checkpost manned by pro-government tribesman and security forces in northwest Pakistan, officials said on Sunday.
Armed with assault rifles and hand grenades, the militants killed four ethnic Pashtun tribesmen and a paramilitary soldier in the late Saturday attack.
Members of a tribal militia and security forces retaliated, killing 10 militants, said a senior government official in the Khyber region near the Afghan border, where the incident took place.
"A large number of weapons from the militants were also confiscated," said the official, Rehan Khattak.
Pakistan's Taliban, who are close to al Qaeda, have stepped up attacks on Pashtun tribes who have raised militias to help security forces.
At least 40 people were killed and 68 wounded when a suicide bomber attacked a funeral of a member of a pro-government tribe in the northwestern Lower Dir district on Thursday.
Militants also claimed responsibility for an attack on a school bus on Tuesday which killed five people, saying the children on the bus were from a pro-government tribe.
The Taliban are also holding more than 20 young men hostage from a pro-government tribe in an area straddling the Afghan border and have demanded the release of scores of prisoners and an end to support of military offensives against them.
Pakistan, a strategic U.S. ally, needs all the help it can get in the fight against militants bent on destabilizing its government.
The army has launched several offensives against militants. But its enemies often melt away when attacked, and suicide bombings persist, scaring away foreign investors needed for the fragile economy.
But while Pakistan is battling domestic Islamists, it is at the same time accused of backing Taliban militants fighting the Afghan government and foreign forces there, as well as Muslim militants fighting Indian rule in the disputed Kashmir region.
Pakistan denies those accusations.
Pakistani authorities have been encouraging the Pashtun tribes to revive traditional militias to counter the growing number of militants fighting the Pakistani state.
Under a centuries-old tradition, the tribes raise the militias, or lashkars, in their semi-autonomous regions to fight criminal gangs and enforce their tribal codes.
The drive has had limited success after the Taliban hit back by killing hundreds of tribal leaders and silencing others.
Some tribal leaders complain that the government has failed to provide the militias with adequate funding or weapons, leaving them at the mercy of the Taliban.
(Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Michael Georgy and Robert Birsel)