Pakistan is planning to supply assault rifles to thousands of tribesmen willing to take up arms against Islamist militants in its northwestern tribal region, officials said. Pakistani officials in Washington said the plan to arm militias known as lashkars would involve supplying AK-47 rifles and other small arms, some purchased from China, to tribesmen in the Bajaur region and other areas of Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA. One Pakistani official estimated that there are about 25,000 militiamen in FATA. Some have already joined the Pakistani military in operations against militant targets. Pakistan has been under U.S. pressure to expand military operations in the lawless tribal region that contains safe havens for al Qaeda, the Taliban and other militant groups. The sites are blamed for rising violence in Pakistan and across the border in Afghanistan, where about 65,000 U.S. and NATO forces are battling an intensifying insurgency. The strategy of supporting tribal militias to evict militants bears a striking parallel with the Awakening Council movement in Iraq, in which Sunni tribesmen have risen up against al Qaeda and driven militants from their neighborhoods with help from the U.S. military. But the two Pakistani officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, insisted that Washington, which is unpopular in Pakistan, would have no role in developing, funding or implementing the plan. "This is an initiative of the tribesmen themselves and the new government. The tribesmen are tired of the militants, want them out of their areas and the government is helping," said one of the officials. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said he had no details of the plan. "What's important here is that Pakistan, the Pakistan government, recognizes that they have a challenge with extremists inside their own country and clearly they are looking for a variety of means ... to address it," he said. But Pentagon officials said the plan was similar to what senior U.S. military officers have advocated for some time. "The concept is welcome," said one senior military official. Iraq's Awakening Councils have also been seen as a potential model for Afghanistan after U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus takes over strategy for the region on October 31. Petraeus, the former top commander in Iraq, will become the new head of U.S. Central Command, which has responsibility for U.S. military interests in the Middle East and parts of south and central Asia. U.S. officials have long complained that the Pakistani government has been slow to confront the militant threat in FATA. But Pentagon officials have remarked favorably about a recent pickup in Pakistani military operations. "It is stepped up not just in terms of tempo, but in terms of effectiveness," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said this week.