About 150 militants armed with rockets attacked a security checkpost in Waziristan in north-west Pakistan on Thursday, killing eight soldiers.
The assault, in which about 12 militants were also killed according to intelligence officials, appears to be part of a new strategy by the Pakistani Taliban of staging large-scale attacks on military and government targets in a bid to demoralise the army.
The incident comes as tensions rise along the border with Afghanistan and as missile strikes by US drone aircraft increase in the federally administered tribal areas that are regarded as an international hub for militants.
The Taliban have intensified attacks across Pakistan in recent weeks to avenge the killing of Osama bin Laden by US special forces in the country on May 2.
The US has stepped up its drone missile strikes against militants particularly since Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, visited Pakistan late last month and urged greater effort from Islamabad in fighting the insurgents.
It is not clear if Pakistan, which receives billions of dollars in US aid, has shared intelligence with the US related to drone targets. The CIA, which operates the remotely piloted drones, may have located prominent al-Qaeda or Taliban militants in the region.
No one claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attack. Last week, the Pakistani Taliban staged a similar attack in the north-west, and officials said up to 400 militants had taken part.
“The militants were carrying rockets and heavy weapons and attacked the checkpost shortly after midnight,” an intelligence official in Waziristan told Reuters, describing the latest attack. “Eight soldiers were killed and 12 wounded.”
Security forces hit back, killing at least 12 militants, another official said. The attack took place on the border between North and South Waziristan.
Analysts say the new tactics suggest the Taliban are taking a deadlier approach. “That’s a very dangerous trend. That means they are really gaining strength,” said Talat Masood, a former army general and columnist. “I think they have upgraded themselves from the suicide bombings to fully fledged attacks.”
Drones are pounding areas of South Waziristan controlled by fighters loyal to Maulvi Nazir, who is not opposed to the Pakistani state. His operations are limited to cross-border assaults on US-led Nato forces in Afghanistan, where in July the US plans to start withdrawing some of its forces.
Rahimullah Yusufzai, a specialist on militants, said the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP – or Taliban Movement of Pakistan) was trying to lure the army into bigger battles and draw militants like Mr Nazir’s forces into their insurgency.
“The TTP is launching attacks to provoke them to react. The army will have no other option but to launch an offensive, even on a limited scale, if the death toll among security forces rises in Waziristan,” he said.