DHAKA - Nine suspected traffickers were killed in Bangladesh on Monday in an intensifying crackdown against a "drug menace" that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has likened to the country's war on homegrown militants. The latest shootings take to 22 the number of alleged traffickers killed since Dhaka last week announced a pushback against the surging trade in methamphetamine and other drugs.

Authorities told AFP that five dealers gunned down on Monday were "top regional drug lords".

One opened fire at a checkpoint as he sped past on a motorbike, said the Rapid Action Battalion police unit leading the anti-drug offensive. "We were compelled to fire back," RAB operations officer Anwar Hossain said. Four other dealers were killed separately in gang wars, police said.

Hundreds of yaba pills - a popular drug combining caffeine and methamphetamine - were recovered from the scene of the shootings, police said.

Thousands of alleged dealers have been arrested in an aggressive sweep that Hasina said would eradicate drugs with the same success that Bangladesh had curbed violent extremism.

"We've contained militancy. Now we've taken an initiative to save the country from this drug menace," the prime minister said Sunday.

Muslim-majority Bangladesh has been waging a war against homegrown militancy as radicals butchered foreigners and secular bloggers in a wave of attacks in recent years.

The frequency of assaults has declined following a brazen cafe siege in 2016 that left 22 dead, including 18 foreigners.

Since then attention has shifted to drugs - particularly yaba, which is doing a roaring trade.

Bangladesh has been struggling to control a huge surge in yaba crossing its southeastern border from Myanmar, where the cheap pills are manufactured in enormous quantities.

Authorities last year seized a record 40 million yaba pills but said an estimated 250-300 million others managed to enter the market.

Nine million yaba tablets were seized in less than three months earlier this year, including nearly two million pills discovered in a single haul.