At least 23 soldiers were killed when militants rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into a Pakistan military base on Tuesday, the army said, in an attack claimed by affiliates of the Pakistani Taliban.
A suicide squad of six fighters attacked an outpost in Dera Ismail Khan district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province — near the Afghan border — in the early hours of Tuesday, the military’s media wing said.
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“The attempt to enter the post was effectively thwarted which forced the terrorists to ram an explosive-laden vehicle into the post, followed by a suicide bombing attack,” a statement said.
“The resulting blasts led to the collapse of the building, causing multiple casualties,” it added, saying all six attackers were slain as soldiers fought back.
A local official who spoke on condition of anonymity said many of the soldiers “were killed while they were sleeping” in the base, a government school commandeered by the army adjacent to a police station.
Another 36 people had been wounded in the attack, he said.
Tehreek-e-Jihad Pakistan — a new group affiliated with the Pakistan Taliban — said the assault began around 2:30 am (2130 GMT) with a “martyrdom attack” by one fighter before others stormed the compound.
The army media wing said Dera Ismail Khan had “witnessed heightened activities” overnight and a total of 27 militants were killed in firefights with troops in the restive area.
Pakistan has witnessed a dramatic spike in militant attacks, mainly in its border regions with Afghanistan, since the Taliban returned to power there in 2021.
Analysts say Islamist fighters have been emboldened by the neighbouring insurgency’s success following the withdrawal of US forces in 2021.
The first half of 2023 saw a nearly 80 percent spike in attacks compared to last year, according to the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies.
Islamabad alleges that hostile groups operate from “sanctuaries” across the border, a charge the Taliban government routinely denies.
The biggest threat to Pakistan is its domestic chapter of the Taliban known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which shares lineage and ideology with Kabul’s rulers.
In January, the TTP was linked to a mosque bombing which killed more than 80 police officers inside a headquarters in the northwestern city of Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Islamabad said four troops were killed in September during a cross-border raid by “hundreds” of TTP fighters in Chitral, an area popular with domestic tourists.