Five Pakistani soldiers killed in gun battle with Taliban

TTP accuses military of breaking fragile ceasefire after at least four fighters died in a gun battle in northwest.

Pakistan’s Taliban has accused the military of breaking a fragile ceasefire after the army said five soldiers and at least four fighters died in a gun battle in the country’s northwest.

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) declared an indefinite ceasefire in June to facilitate peace talks being brokered by the Afghan Taliban, but there have been regular clashes since then despite both sides saying the truce was still on.

In the latest clash on Monday, the Pakistan military said it raided a hideout in Boyya, North Waziristan bordering Afghanistan, following an intelligence tip-off.

“Intense fire exchange took place between own troops and terrorists,” the military’s public relations wing said in a statement.

It said four fighters were killed, and five soldiers, including an officer, “embraced martyrdom”.

On Tuesday a TTP commander confirmed the clash and accused the government of bad faith, saying troops had attacked them in six districts recently, including Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

“The government was not honouring its commitment regarding the ceasefire,” the commander told the AFP news agency.

A government official who has been party to negotiations with the group accused them of “targeted killings” and “increasing their movements” in parts of the country.

North Waziristan and other former tribal regions in northwestern Pakistan were a base for the Pakistani Taliban and other armed groups until the army claimed that it cleared the region of fighters. Occasional attacks have continued, however, raising concerns the Pakistani Taliban are regrouping in the area.

Since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan last year Islamabad has regularly complained of attacks by the TTP, especially along their porous border.

The Pakistan and Afghanistan Taliban are separate groups but share a common ideology.

Afghanistan insists it will not allow its soil to be used by foreign fighters, but hundreds of Pakistan Taliban fighters are believed to be in the country, as well as much of the group’s leadership.

In April, the Taliban accused Pakistan of carrying out air raids in the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Khost. Islamabad did not confirm it was behind the attacks.

The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has emboldened the Pakistani Taliban, who are currently in peace talks with the government.

The previous truce between the two sides expired on May 30. So far, none of the ceasefires has paved the way for more permanent peace.

The TTP has waged an armed rebellion in Pakistan over the past 14 years, fighting for stricter enforcement of Islamic laws in the country, the release of their members who are in government custody, and a reduction of Pakistan’s military presence in the country’s tribal regions.

In 2014, the group attacked a school in Peshawar, killing 150 people, mostly children, in one of its deadliest attacks in the country.

The government in Islamabad, on the other hand, wants the Pakistani Taliban disbanded and for the fighters to accept Pakistan’s constitution and sever alleged ties with ISIL (ISIS), another armed group with a regional affiliate that is active in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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