The Khyber tribal region has been long fought over by a mix of militant groups, including the Tehrik-i-Taliban pakistan (TTP), the pro-government Ansarul Islam (AI) and Mangal Bagh’s Lashkar-i-Islam.—File Photo

PESHAWAR: At least 12 more militants were killed Sunday as intense gun-battles continued between two rival groups in Pakistan’s restive tribal region of Khyber agency, officials said.

Fierce clashes erupted three days ago when members of the Tariq Afridi faction of the banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) launched an attack in the Bagh-Maidan area of Tirah valley on Friday, capturing a building belonging to the pro-government Ansarul Islam (AI) militants.

“The Ansar-ul-Islam group re-took their centre after intense fighting,” said another senior local administration official.

The approximate number of deaths from three days of fierce clashes has now reached 52. A senior security official confirmed the approximate death toll and said fighting was ongoing.

The area is cut off to journalists and aid workers so it was not possible to confirm the death toll independently.

The Ansarul Islam, led by local commander Munsif Khan, opposes Mangal Bagh’s Lashkar-i-Islam and the TTP, who frequently launches attacks on Pakistani troops.

Sadat Afridi, a spokesman for the pro-government AI, says his group has vowed to flush out TTP militants from Tirah valley as they “carry out attacks on mosques and public places, which is against Islam.”

Khyber is among Pakistan’s seven semi-autonomous tribal districts near the Afghan border, rife with homegrown insurgents and home to religious extremist organisations including the al Qaeda and Taliban.

The remote Tirah valley holds strategic significance for militant groups. On one side, it shares a border with Afghanistan. On the other it leads to the plains of Bara, which connect the agency to the outskirts of Peshawar.

Khyber also links several agencies to each other, serving as a north-south route within Fata. The region has been long fought over by a mix of militant groups, including the TTP, the Ansarul Islam and Mangal Bagh’s Lashkar-i-Islam.

Zahir Shah Sherazi contributed to reporting from Peshawar.