By Keith Miller Senior foreign correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/21/2004 7:37:50 PM ET 2004-04-21T23:37:50

America’s newest allies in the war on terrorism are tribesmen living in Pakistan’s lawless frontier along the border with Afghanistan. They have joined the hunt for Islamic militants.  The 2,000-man militia is cooperating, however reluctantly, with the Pakistani army to flush out foreign fighters.

The government says al-Qaida fighters are living among the tribesmen and Wednesday gave them 10 more days to track down the terrorists or face a crackdown by the army.

According to retired Gen. Talat Masood, “These people have settled in that area, they have married into the families and integrated into the tribal belt.”

Two homes where tribesman said foreign fighters were given shelter were attacked and burned down this week.

It’s estimated that up to 500 supporters of Osama bin Laden are hiding out near the border, and there’s speculation that he could be there too.

The tribesmen agreed to try to kill, capture, or drive off the wanted men, to avoid a repeat of last month’s army crackdown that left 120 people dead. 

Part of the strategy is to drive Islamic militants across the border into Afghanistan and into the sights of U.S. Special Forces waiting just on the other side.

“We will ensure that Pakistan soil is not used for any terrorist activity, whether in Pakistan or outside Pakistan,” said Pakistan army spokesman Gen. Shaukat Sultan.  “It is in our interest.”

So far the militiamen have not made any arrests, but they may be having an effect.

The U.S. military commander in Afghanistan claims the al-Qaida network has been significantly disrupted in the border region and its ability to support the Taliban diminished.

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