A bomb planted by suspected Taliban insurgents ripped through a truck carrying troops in Pakistan's tribal region on Thursday, killing nine soldiers and wounding more than a dozen, officials said, with the death toll expected to rise.
The daylight attack, one of the biggest on Pakistani security forces in months, deals a major blow to the army at a time when Pakistan is already under strong U.S. pressure to do more to contain the insurgency on its western frontier.
The army said the bomb was planted in a truck carrying soldiers of the paramilitary Frontier Corps. It exploded as it was moving along the Afghan border where many al-Qaida-linked militant groups are holed up.
“The paramilitary forces were doing some internal movements along the Afghan border when their pickup truck was blown up,” said a senior military official based in Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan.
Another military official said the death toll could increase as several of the wounded were in critical condition.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but the officials said the Pakistani Taliban, seeking to set up an Islamic state, were responsible.
Taliban insurgents have carried out similar attacks against the army and paramilitary forces that control the area.
The Taliban had earlier vowed to step up attacks on security and government forces after electing a new hardline leader, Mullah Fazlullah, at the end of last year.
Village elders said Thursday's blast, which was heard all around Miranshah, created panic, forcing people to retreat into their homes and close down shops and markets.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif came to power last year promising to engage the Taliban in peace talks and find a negotiated solution to years of fighting.
Talks had been going on since February but recently stalled again when Taliban called off a ceasefire.
Attacks have continued unabated despite dialogue, a concern to regional powers already anxious about security as most foreign troops prepare to leave neighboring Afghanistan this year.
The Pakistani Taliban, loosely aligned with their Afghan namesakes, are also deeply fractured, making policy coordination all the more difficult, something the government hopes to exploit.
On Thursday, nine militants were killed and 15 wounded in fighting between two feuding factions. On Tuesday, twelve militants were killed in in-fighting.