Twenty-three soldiers were killed in northwestern Pakistan on Tuesday when heavily armed militants attacked a security post in one of the deadliest assaults on the country’s security forces in recent years, officials said.
The pre-dawn raid occurred on the outskirts of Dera Ismail Khan, a district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, which borders Afghanistan and has been plagued by militancy and terrorist attacks since the Afghan Taliban took power in the neighboring country two years ago.
The militants initiated the attack by ramming an explosive-laden vehicle into the compound’s outer perimeter, beside a police station, causing a building to collapse and leading to numerous casualties, the Pakistani military said in a statement. After a fierce gun battle, all six attackers were killed, it said.
In a separate recent episode in the same district, a military operation against a militant hide-out resulted in the deaths of two soldiers and 21 militants, according to the military.
Tehreek-e-Jihad Pakistan, a relatively unknown militant group, claimed responsibility for the attack on the security post. The group’s spokesman, Mullah Muhammad Qasim, said on the Telegram messaging app that the assault had begun with a suicide attack and that other militants had then stormed the compound.
Tensions have been rising between Pakistan and Afghanistan, with Pakistan accusing the Afghan Taliban of harboring the Pakistani Taliban. Violence in the border area has increased substantially since early October, when Pakistan announced a policy directing all undocumented foreigners to leave the country by Nov. 1, a move that has primarily affected Afghans.
Dera Ismail Khan and nearby districts have been hotbeds of terrorism for decades, and Dera Ismail Khan has experienced several recent attacks. On Nov. 3, a bombing targeted the local police, killing five people and injuring more than 20. Jabbar Ali, a police officer in the district, said the local force faced difficulties in fending off militants equipped with advanced weapons, including night-vision gear abandoned by the United States military during its withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021.
In May, Pakistani law enforcement agencies killed a key commander of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, another militant group, in a shootout. The commander, Iqbal, also known as Bali Kiara, had been involved in several high-profile attacks on security forces in Dera Ismail Khan and neighboring districts, and carried a bounty on his head of about $35,000, according to the police.
T.J.P., the militant group that said it was behind Tuesday’s attack on the security post, gained prominence in February after claiming responsibility for a soldier’s death on the Afghan border. It has since primarily targeted Pakistan’s military.
Pakistani security officials believe that the organization serves as a cover for other groups, lowering pressure on the Taliban government in Afghanistan to expel Pakistani militants who belong to those groups.
Military experts described the timing of Tuesday’s attack as strategic, given that it aligned with Pakistan’s deteriorating relations with Afghanistan, the crackdown on undocumented Afghans, and the first official visit to the United States by Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Syed Asim Munir, who is holding talks with American military officials.
“The T.J.P. is a front organization of the T.T.P., and the T.T.P. takes direction from the Taliban regime in Kabul,” Asfandyar Mir, a senior analyst at the United States Institute of Peace, a Washington-based think tank, said of the two groups.
“For that reason, Pakistan has increased pressure to coerce the Taliban into reconsidering their support for the T.T.P.,” he said, adding that the attack on the security post might be retaliation by the Taliban “in an attempt to get Pakistan to back off.”