Deadly Taliban attack on Pakistani checkpoint
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At least 23 people were killed on Saturday after Taliban militants attacked an army checkpoint in northwestern Pakistan. The assault comes a day after a suicide bombing at a Shiite Muslim mosque that claimed the lives of two dozen people.
Taliban militants wearing suicide vests and firing automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades attacked an army post in northwestern Pakistan before dawn on Saturday, killing 23 people including 10 civilians, officials said. Twelve attackers were also reported killed in the assault.
The raid followed a suicide bombing at a Shiite Muslim mosque elsewhere in the northwest on Friday that killed 24 people, police said. The blast was the latest in a rising number of sectarian attacks in the country.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for both attacks. The group has been waging a bloody insurgency against the government for years and also has sometimes targeted the country’s minority Shiites, whom the militants consider to be heretics.
The Taliban and allied militant groups have stepped up the pace of attacks in Pakistan in recent months, an indication of their strength despite numerous army operations against their strongholds in the northwest.
The raid on the army post in Serai Naurang town of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province began around 3:45 a.m. local time and lasted for several hours, said senior police officer Arif Khan Wazir. The militants were armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, he said.
Nine soldiers and four members of the Frontier Constabulary, a force that polices parts of northwestern Pakistan, were killed in the fighting, two security officials said. They said 12 attackers also died. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
They say militants killed 10 civilians in a nearby house, including three women and three children.
Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan claimed responsibility for the attack in a telephone call to The Associated Press from an undisclosed location. He said four suicide bombers were involved in the attack. He said that three of them were killed and the fourth was still resisting as of his call at around 9:20 a.m. local time.
Ahsan said the attack was retaliation for the recent deaths of two Taliban commanders in U.S. drone strikes. He accused the Pakistani army of helping with the attacks. Pakistani officials often criticize drone operations as a violation of the country’s sovereignty, but are known to have assisted some U.S. strikes in the past.
A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media, said he saw the bodies of three attackers with their suicide vests intact. Their features suggested they belonged to a group of Uzbek militants allied with the Taliban, he said.
He said other attackers detonated their explosives during the battle with security forces - one inside the house where civilians were killed. He did not say if this caused the civilian deaths.
The attack on the mosque Friday took place in Hangu town, also in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The town has experienced previous clashes between the Sunni and Shiite communities that live there.
Shiites in Pakistan have increasingly been targeted by radical Sunnis who consider them heretics, and 2012 was the bloodiest year for the minority sect in the country’s history. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 400 Shiites were killed in targeted attacks in Pakistan in 2012.
The Taliban are battling the Pakistani government because of its alliance with the United States and to impose Islamic law in the country. Pakistani’s military has launched operations against the Taliban in many of their sanctuaries in the semiautonomous tribal region along the Afghan border.
But one major area remains: North Waziristan, the main stronghold for Taliban and al-Qaida militants in the country. The army has resisted launching an operation there, despite intense U.S. pressure, for fear of a backlash from militants who so far have directed their attacks against U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan rather than inside Pakistan.
It’s unclear whether the recent surge of attacks in Pakistan will alter the army’s calculation. There have also been calls from some political leaders to hold talks with the Taliban in an attempt to end the violence. But others believe the Taliban can’t be reasoned with or trusted, and battling them into submission is the only option.