ISLAMABAD – Taliban militants ambushed a Pakistani army post near the Afghan border before dawn Wednesday, killing eight soldiers, in a reminder of the threat posed by insurgents despite numerous military offensives against them.
The attack occurred in the South Waziristan tribal area, once the main stronghold for the Pakistani Taliban, a military official said. The military launched a large offensive against militants there in 2009, but insurgents still operate in the area and periodically stage attacks.
In addition to the eight soldiers killed, six others were wounded in the ambush near Ghatbadr village in the Shakai Valley, the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media. The attack started around midnight and lasted for several hours, he said.
The assault followed the start of a new army operation to rout militants from the area, the official said. During the operation over the last two days, soldiers killed 18 militants and destroyed seven of their hideouts. Another 21 militants were wounded, according to the official.
The official initially said nine soldiers were killed but later lowered the toll to eight.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack on the post. The group's spokesman, Ahsanullah Ahsan, claimed they killed 12 soldiers and beheaded some of them.
The differing accounts could not be independently verified.
The military has conducted offensives against the Pakistani Taliban in six of the seven areas that make up Pakistan's semiautonomous tribal region along the Afghan border.
The U.S. said recently that Islamabad plans to launch an operation against the Pakistani Taliban in the last major militant sanctuary in the region, North Waziristan. But Pakistani military officials have downplayed the comments, saying they intend to slowly ratchet up the pressure on militants in North Waziristan rather than launch a sweeping offensive.
Many Pakistani Taliban fighters fled to North Waziristan and other parts of the tribal region following the 2009 army operation in South Waziristan.
The U.S. has criticized Pakistan for refusing to target militants who use North Waziristan as a base to attack coalition forces in Afghanistan, especially the so-called Haqqani network.
Pakistan has said its forces are stretched too thin by operations against the Pakistani Taliban in other parts of the tribal region, but many analysts believe Islamabad is reluctant to cross militants viewed as potential allies in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw.
The top commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, is scheduled to visit Pakistan on Thursday to meet with the country's army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani military said.