Six Pakistani soldiers killed in rebel fire

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By Webdesk

The Pakistani army says it has killed three fighters in a firefight in North Waziristan district near the Afghan border.

At least six Pakistani soldiers have been killed in a firefight with Taliban fighters in the northwestern region of the country near the Afghan border, the army said on Thursday.

“There was an exchange of fire between terrorists and our own troops,” the Pakistani military said in a statement describing the incident in North Waziristan district, which has long been a stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban, also known as Tehreek- e-Taliban Pakistan. TTP), an umbrella group of various armed groups.

Three fighters were also killed when the army attacked them, it said, adding that it was searching the area in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to determine if any more attackers were in hiding.

The statement gave no further details and it was unclear who the attackers were, but the region is a hotbed of the Pakistani Taliban, which has killed tens of thousands of people in decades of violence.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif expressed grief over the “martyrdom” of soldiers.

“These enormous sacrifices by our security forces, police and intelligence services are a testament to our unwavering national determination to protect the Motherland from the scourge of terrorism and militancy. My deepest condolences to the bereaved and prayers for the departed souls,” Sharif tweeted.

The attack happened the same day when at least seven teachers were killed in an apparent sectarian attack in the Kurram tribal district of the same province.

The bloodshed came after Pakistan announced a new offensive against armed groups following a resurgence of attacks, including a mosque bombing that killed more than 100 people in February.

The army has killed and arrested dozens of fighters in recent weeks in multiple attacks on rebel hideouts in the mountainous region bordering Afghanistan.

Safe haven in Afghanistan

Islamabad has said the fighters, who want to introduce a harsh version of Islamic law in Pakistan, have a safe haven in Afghanistan to plan and carry out the attacks, a charge Kabul has denied.

Amir Khan Muttaqi, foreign minister of the Taliban government in Afghanistan, will arrive in Islamabad on Friday for meetings with his Pakistani and Chinese counterparts. The agenda of the talks has not been made public.

The incident came within a week of attacks by fighters, including an attack by a suicide bomber who drove into a military base camp just outside the Lakki Marwat tribal district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, killing three soldiers.

The Pakistani Taliban is behind several attacks against the state, which have become more frequent since last year after it revoked an Afghan Taliban-brokered ceasefire and failed peace talks with the government in Islamabad.

The Pakistani and Afghan Taliban are separate groups but share a common ideology.

The government said the peace talks enabled the release of hundreds of armed fighters and their leaders from prison, allowing them to regroup and launch new attacks.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has accused the previous government of Prime Minister Imran Khan of “mishandling” the Pakistani Taliban.

“His policy of appeasement towards the Taliban has caused problems for the people of Pakistan,” Zardari told Al Jazeera in an interview on Jan. 23, adding that the previous approach by his government has ended.

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