ISLAMABAD (AP) – Militants ambushed a Pakistani army convoy traveling in a tribal region filled with insurgent groups focused on the war in neighboring Afghanistan, killing seven soldiers, the military said Friday.
The attack Thursday could raise pressure on Islamabad to wage an offensive in the North Waziristan tribal region, which has largely escaped Pakistani army action in recent years despite U.S. pressure for a crackdown.
The army statement said the attack occurred in the Datta Khel area Of North Waziristan, and that the convoy was “carrying out a routine movement” to the area from the city of Miran Shah. Sixteen soldiers also were wounded in the attack, one of the worst known to have occurred against the army in the region in several months.
Pakistan has carried out several army operations in its semiautonomous tribal belt, where Al Qaeda and various Taliban factions have long thrived. The offensives have mainly been aimed at militant groups targeting Pakistani institutions.
North Waziristan has largely escaped the operations because most of the militant networks there, unlike groups such as the Pakistani Taliban, are focused on the war in Afghanistan.
The U.S. wants Pakistan to take on the North Waziristan networks, but Islamabad says it does not have the resources to open another front. Critics suspect Pakistan doesn’t want to anger militants it may need to influence affairs in Afghanistan once the U.S. leaves.
Two intelligence officials said the attack involved groups of militants hiding on both sides of a road.
The area is controlled by Sadiq Noor, one of the few Pakistani Taliban commanders known to operate in the region, they said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.
It’s unclear what impact the attack will have on Pakistan’s future designs in North Waziristan. However, large numbers of Pakistani Taliban fighters are believed to have set up base in North Waziristan after the army began an offensive last year against their prior main stronghold, South Waziristan.
Attacks on security forces in North Waziristan are not unprecedented, but relatively few have been publicized in recent months.
Like most of the information given by the government or military out of the tribal regions, independent verification of the deaths is nearly impossible because access to the zone is severely restricted.
Also in North Waziristan on Friday, the badly mutilated bodies of four men alleged to have been U.S. spies were found in Mir Ali town.
Area residents and an Associated Press reporter saw the bodies Friday morning. One was beheaded, while the other three had slit throats and severed hands. Dozens of men have been killed in a similar fashion in North Waziristan in recent years. Like previous cases, notes attached to the bodies warned others to learn from the fate of the so-called spies.