PESHAWAR, Pakistan, (AP) – Dozens of gunmen raided a checkpoint near a stronghold of Taliban and al-Qaeda militants in northwest Pakistan on Wednesday and abducted seven soldiers, a local official said.
The attack near the North Waziristan region highlights concern about the ability of Pakistani troops to stand up to militants who appear to be gaining in strength near the Afghan border.
It was not immediately clear exactly who abducted the soldiers in the village of Buland Khel, said Ghani ur-Rahman, the mayor of nearby Hangu town. He said authorities were contacting tribal elders to seek their help in releasing the men.
Army spokesmen were not immediately available for comment.
Scores of soldiers have been killed or seized in a belt of tribally governed territory along the frontier since the army deployed more troops there in July, prompting fierce fighting with militants and their local supporters.
Authorities on Wednesday sent a delegation of tribal elders to South Waziristan to seek the release of a group of 260 soldiers abducted there Aug. 30.
Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema said there were “encouraging signs” that the hostages, who were part of a military convoy apparently seized without a fight, would soon be free.
He said officials were seeking a solution that avoided an army rescue operation that would endanger civilians, including an offer of development projects in the impoverished region.
Local militant leaders have demanded that the government withdraw troops recently deployed in their areas.
Pakistan is a key ally of the United States in its war on terror and says it has about 90,000 troops in the tribal areas to combat militancy and prevent infiltration into neighboring Afghanistan.