At least seven Taliban militants were killed Sunday by Pakistani helicopter strikes and in a clash with local forces in the tribal region near the Afghan border, government officials said. Two pro-government tribesmen were also killed in fighting which erupted after a government-backed armed group torched three houses belonging to militants because they allegedly harboured Al-Qaeda suspects, government official Mohammad Jamil told a foreign news agency. He said the tribal force known as a "lashkar" launched the operation against insurgents in Bajaur district, where Pakistani forces have clashed with Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants for the past three months. Two militants were killed and two injured in the ensuing gun battle, while two pro-government tribesmen, including lashkar chief Malik Fazle Ma'abood, also died in the exchange of gunfire.