Assailants armed with rockets and assault rifles attacked a newly built checkpoint near the Afghan border in Pakistan on Saturday, killing all eight soldiers there, officials said.
Hours after the attack, an air strike on a home belonging to a local cleric on the border about 30 miles west of the checkpoint killed eight people and wounded nine others, local residents said.
Pakistan military spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan only confirmed the killings of security forces at the checkpoint and refused to comment on the attack on the home.
The checkpoint attack occurred in a village near Miran Shah, the main town in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region, where Pakistan has deployed thousands of troops in an effort to flush out the Taliban, al-Qaida and their local supporters.
Sultan said authorities were trying to determine who was behind the assault. Regional authorities were seeking help from tribal elders in finding the assailants.
A regional security official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the slain troops had moved to the checkpoint just hours before the attack.
Women, children among wounded
In the air strike, four women and four children were among the wounded and were taken to a hospital in Miran Shah, said a resident, who didn’t want to be named. Residents said they were unsure what type of aircraft carried out the strike.
One of the wounded, Mohammed Shafiq, 30, told The Associated Press that he was awoken by the whirring sound of helicopters, then heard gunfire.
“I don’t know who attacked our home,” he said.
Sultan said only that “there are reports about firing on a home, but I have no details, and this matter is still being investigated.”
The U.S. military in Kabul said it had no information on the incident. Pakistan has said it will not allow U.S. forces to cross its border with Afghanistan to participate in unauthorized military operations.
Later Saturday, Pakistani troops backed by helicopters targeted suspected militant hideouts near Miran Shah, but suspended the offensive after local elders asked for more time to investigate the identities of the checkpoint assailants.
The checkpoint was set up this week as part of Pakistan’s efforts to stop insurgents from sneaking into Pakistan or returning to Afghanistan, where U.S. forces have been trying to root out insurgents.
Pakistan is a key ally of the United States in its war on terror and it has killed or captured scores of terror suspects and their local supporters in the North and South Waziristan regions after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S.
The rebels often target security forces in retaliation.
Same region where Rabia died
The latest attack on security forces came in the same region where al-Qaida operative Hamza Rabia was killed in December in what Pakistani officials said was an explosion caused by bomb-making activities.
But local residents said Rabia died in a missile attack and parts of what appeared to be a missile were found at the site. Neither Pakistani nor American officials have confirmed that version of the incident.
Rabia gained prominence after the arrest of al-Qaida’s suspected No. 3 Abu Farraj al-Libbi in Pakistan in May.
Al-Libbi — who twice tried to assassinate Pakistan’s President Gen. Pervez Musharraf for aiding Washington’s war on terror — was later turned over to the United States for further investigations.