DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (Reuters) - At least five soldiers and six Taliban militants have been killed after raids on Pakistan army checkpoints in the restive tribal area of Waziristan, security officials say, as the military presses on with an offensive in the Shawal Valley.
Pakistan began a ground offensive in the deeply forested ravines of the valley, a historical smuggling route which straddles the border between North and South Waziristan, on Friday.
Early on Tuesday morning, a group of militants attacked a checkpoint in the Pir Ghar area, adjacent to Shawal, killing at least three security personnel, security officials in the area told Reuters.
“Militants attacked with heavy weapons, including [Rocket Propelled Grenades] and machine guns. Forces replied to the attack [and] we are checking for the militants’ casualties,” a security official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Hours earlier, two security forces personnel, including a lieutenant colonel, were killed in an exchange of fire with militants in the Shawal valley, Pakistan’s military said in a statement.
At least six militants were also killed in that exchange, the military said.
Both attacks were claimed by a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, who the army has been battling in North Waziristan since it launched a full-scale military operation in the area in June last year.
“We will not let the army enter Shawal under any conditions,” Azam Tariq, a Taliban spokesperson, told Reuters on Tuesday, adding that dozens of Taliban fighters had been involved in the raids.
The Shawal offensive marks the latest phase of a military operation in Waziristan, which the army says has resulted in the deaths of more than 2,700 militants and the clearance of most of North Waziristan, a historical hotbed of militancy.
On Tuesday, the military said it had destroyed a militant training camp and ammunition dump in gunship helicopter strikes in the Gurbaz area of Shawal.
The Pakistani Taliban has been battling the Pakistani state since the group’s formation in South Waziristan in 2007, and has the ultimate goal of enforcing a strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law on the country.
Additional reporting by Haji Mujtaba in Bannu, Hafiz Wazir in Wana and Asad Hashim in Islamabad; Editing by Jeremy Laurence