Authorities in Pakistan said Wednesday that militants had ambushed and killed at least six members of a provincial police force.
The early morning attack took place in Lakki Marwat district in the country’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan.
Police officials said the slain cops were conducting a routine patrol when two gunmen on a motorcycle sprayed their vehicle with bullets and managed to flee.
Provincial authorities condemned the attack as a “cowardly act” and said a search operation was underway to apprehend the perpetrators.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned the attack saying, “terrorism continues to be one of Pakistan’s foremost problems,” in a statement posted on Twitter Wednesday.
An outlawed extremist group, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, TTP, or the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the deadly shooting. In a statement sent to reporters, the group said the police unit was ambushed on the way to a counter-TTP raid.
The TTP, listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States and the United Nations, routinely carries out attacks against security forces in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and elsewhere in Pakistan.
The militant group in a separate statement Wednesday claimed that a U.S. drone strike and an ensuing Pakistani security raid in the province’s Dera Ismail Khan district had killed three TTP commanders.
The claim, which could not be immediately verified from independent sources, comes a day after provincial counterterrorism authorities confirmed the killing of “four terrorists in an intelligence-based operation” in the district.
The TTP is a Pakistani off-shoot and close ally of Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban. Central leaders and commanders of the Pakistani Taliban are sheltering in the neighboring country.
Pakistan has experienced a dramatic rise in TTP attacks originating from Afghanistan since the Islamist Taliban seized power there in August 2021 when the U.S.-backed Afghan government collapsed and all international troops exited the war-torn neighboring country.
The violence has killed close to 500 Pakistanis, mostly security forces, this year alone. Officials note that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has suffered the highest number of TTP attacks, claiming the lives of at least 100 soldiers and as many members of the police force.
Pakistani security forces have also continued their push against militants and killed hundreds of them during counterterrorism operations.
Islamabad has been pressing the Taliban government to live up to its pledges to prevent international terrorists from operating out of Afghan soil.
Pakistan entered in talks with the TTP, mediated and hosted by the Afghan Taliban, a year ago in a bid to seek a negotiated settlement to years of violence in the country. But the process broke down a couple of months ago, leading to increased militant attacks.
The new Islamist rulers in Kabul have repeatedly vowed they would combat foreign terrorists in Afghanistan. But critics remain skeptical about the claims, citing deep ties between the Taliban and terrorist groups, including al-Qaida and TTP.
The U.N. estimates there are up to 6,500 TTP fighters operating out of Afghanistan.