ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades, automatic rifles and suicide explosive vests launched a predawn raid on a Pakistani army camp in the country’s volatile northwest Saturday, killing 23 people and injuring at least eight.
The attack took place at a camp and checkpost in Lakki Marwat, a region just east of North Waziristan, the tribal area that the Pakistani Taliban, Al Qaeda and other militant groups continue to use as a primary base of operations, according to Pakistani security officials and local authorities. The militants converged on the camp at about 3:45 a.m. and engaged in a fierce firefight that lasted more than two hours.
Thirteen of the dead were security personnel -- nine army troops and four officers with the Frontier Constabulary, a security force that polices the country’s northwest, said a Pakistani security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on such matters. The attackers also broke into a nearby house and killed a family living there, including four men, three women and three children.
During the attack, 12 militants were killed, the security official said. At least two of them were wearing suicide explosive vests.
Ahsanullah Ahsan, spokesman for the Pakistan Taliban, said his group claimed responsibility for the attack, adding that it was in retaliation for U.S. drone strikes that recently killed two Taliban commanders in Pakistan’s tribal region along the Afghan border. Ahsan accused the Pakistani military of “providing logistical support” for U.S. drone strikes.
In the past the Taliban has accused the Pakistani government of cooperating with Washington in the drone campaign, which has over the years killed numerous Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders. The Pakistani government publicly denounces U.S. drone attacks as violations of their country’s sovereignty, but has also allowed them to continue.
Last year, the frequency of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal regions dropped off. The U.S. carried out 46 drone missile strikes in 2012, compared with 64 in 2011 and 117 in 2010, according to the Long War Journal website, which tracks drone activity.
However, Washington stepped up drone attacks in January, launching seven missile strikes on militant targets in Pakistan’s tribal belt. One of those strikes, the Jan. 2 attack on a house in the village of Angoor Adda in South Waziristan, killed Pakistani Taliban commander Maulvi Nazir, who had called a truce with the Pakistani military to focus on attacking U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan. Another drone strike the following day killed Shah Faisal, a top aide to Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mahsud.
The Taliban faction led by Mahsud regards the Pakistani government as its main enemy and is responsible for hundreds of suicide bombings and terror acts across the country in recent years.
Staff writer Alex Rodriguez reported from Islamabad, and special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali reported from Peshawar, Pakistan.