Three Pakistani soldiers killed in gun battle with Taliban

Attacks by TTP have been rising since peace talks with government broke down in November

Three Pakistani soldiers were killed in a gun battle with Taliban militants near the Afghan-Pakistan border on Saturday, the latest violent incident in the restive, semi-mountainous frontier region.

Pakistan’s army has been battling an escalating number of attacks from Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), as well as an insurgency by separatist Balochs. Six soldiers were killed last month in the same area.

Analysts say the TTP has benefitted from a large influx of US-made weaponry that was abandoned by the Afghan army when their forces collapsed in August 2021, leading the Taliban to take over the country.

A months-long ceasefire between the government and the militants expired in November and levels of violence have risen steadily since.

Saturday’s fighting, in which three Taliban fighters were also killed, took place in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a tribal area of North Waziristan that has long been a militant stronghold.

Pakistan’s army launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb in 2014 against the militants, who had formed an alliance with Al Qaeda, displacing about 500,000 people from the tribal areas. Since then, that number is thought to have swollen to nearly 1.5 million, while reconstruction was slow in the wake of fighting, and poverty has endured, providing a recruitment ground for the Taliban. Many residents however, firmly reject the movement, accusing militants of extorting local businesses and bringing insecurity.

Since the summer, people in Wana and Swat, both in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, have held protests against both the return of the TTP and what they see as a government failure to stem the violence.

Another military operation was launched in April, and losses on both sides – often in skirmishes, attacks on police stations or roadside bomb attacks – are frequent.

According to the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, nearly 500 people were killed in violence involving the TTP last year.

The Pakistani army carried out search operations to track down those responsible for the latest attack, seizing a cache of ammunition found with the dead militants.

The military said it was “determined to eliminate the menace of terrorism”.