Islamabad: Militants ambushed a Pakistani army convoy traveling in a tribal region that is mostly home to insurgent groups focused on the war in neighboring Afghanistan, killing eight soldiers, the military said Friday.
The attack could raise pressure on Islamabad to wage an offensive in North Waziristan, which has largely escaped Pakistani army action in recent years despite US pressure for a crackdown. Militant attacks on troops in the region have also been rare.
The army statement said the attack Thursday occurred in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan, and that the convoy was "carrying out a routine movement" to the area from the town of Miran Shah. Sixteen soldiers were wounded in the ambush, one of the worst known to have occurred against the army in the border region in several months.
The statement did not give many details. However, two intelligence officials in the northwest said tribesmen joined local Taliban fighters to stage the ambush after a 15-year-old boy in the area was allegedly shot to death by an earlier group of traveling soldiers.
The boy was killed when troops opened fire after a roadside bomb exploded near the convoy, the officials said on condition on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media on the record.
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 US 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 US leaves.
The area struck Thursday is controlled by Sadiq Noor, one of the few Pakistani Taliban commanders known to operate in the region, said two other intelligence officials, also asking that their names not be used.
It`s unclear whether the attack will have any impact on the Pakistan`s army 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.
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 mutilated bodies of four men alleged to have been US spies were found in Mir Ali town.
Area residents and a news agency 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.