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Taliban Targeted Soldiers' Children in Horrific School Massacre

Former Pakistan military officials say the Taliban attack on Peshawar school deliberately targeted the children of soldiers fighting in the northwest.

The horrific attack in Pakistan on Tuesday was not the first time the Taliban has targeted a school — but sources told NBC News the massacre was motivated more by the militant group’s war with Pakistan’s army than it was by its anti-education ideology.

The Taliban has claimed that the siege on the Army Public School in Peshawar, one of nearly 150 schools across the country run by the military, was “revenge” for the Pakistani army’s ongoing operation in North Waziristan, a hotbed of terrorist activity for years. Pakistan officials said the attack, which killed more than 140, appeared to be aimed at the children of senior military personnel who attend the school.

“The Taliban could have attacked any one of the thousands of schools across the country,” said retired Maj. Gen. Mahmud Ali Durrani. “They deliberately went after the children of the soldiers they’re fighting.”

Peshawar is headquarters for the XI Corps, a branch of Pakistan’s military that has led its operation in North Waziristan and includes many members of the armed forces who send their children to Army Public School. But that operation — dubbed "Zarb-e-Azb" or "Strike of the Prophet's Sword" — has recently slowed in pace after making gains since its June launch. Former military officials say the dense, heavily forested region in the Shawal Valley, the site of numerous U.S. drone strikes, has "held up" the military's advance.

Pakistan’s army runs a system of 146 schools with over 130,000 students across the country. The schools are intended to provide the children of military personnel with a common, standardized curriculum wherever their parents are stationed. Civilians can also attend, and in some schools they make up the majority of students.

The country's military and civilian leadership — including some opposition leaders who have long advocated for peace talks with the Taliban — will gather Wednesday to discuss the way forward. One former senior intelligence official says the time to act decisively against the militants is now. "If we fail to act now," he said in an email, "we are not fit to survive as a country."