Pakistani army says shootout with militants killed 2 troops

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ISLAMABAD (AP) — A shootout between Pakistani soldiers and militants in the country’s northwest, near the border with Afghanistan, has killed two soldiers and seven militants, the army said.

According to a military statement, the exchange took place on Sunday in Ghulam Khan, a border town in North Waziristan, a district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The area, along the Afghanistan border, is a former stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups.

The military gave no further details.

Lately, an increasing number of attacks on Pakistani troops and the military’s raids on militant hideouts there have raised concerns about the prospects of ongoing talks between the Islamabad government and the Pakistani Taliban.

The talks are hosted by the Taliban in Afghanistan. The two sides agreed on a cease-fire in May that’s still holding. The Afghan Taliban, who seized control of the country last August, have urged both sides to give peace a chance.

For years, North Waziristan and its surroundings were a militant sanctuary, until a massive military operation in 2014. The army said it cleared the area but militants there are still able to stage sporadic attacks.

The outlawed Pakistani Taliban — Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP as the group is known — has claimed most of the attacks. The TTP, which is allied with the Afghan Taliban, for years used Afghanistan’s rugged border regions for hideouts and for staging cross-border attacks into Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban takeover has emboldened the group.