Ten Pakistani soldiers gunned down, military says

Ten soldiers have been killed in two separate incidents across Pakistan, a military spokesperson said on Saturday.

In the first incident, a military statement said the attackers were “terrorists from across the Afghan border” who opened fire on a border patrolling party in North Waziristan, a mountainous region located in Pakistan’s northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which is close to the Afghan border.

Six soldiers were killed in the first attack, according to the military statement.

The second incident took place in the country’s southwestern province of Balochistan, where a military operation left four soldiers dead. That attack was also attributed to “terrorists” by the military.

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on Saturday claimed responsibility for an attack in South Waziristan, in which they called Pakistani military “America’s slaves.” However, the group did not claim an attack in North Waziristan, where the military said it occurred.

Writing on Twitter on Saturday, the Pakistan military’s spokesman Maj. General Asif Ghafoor expressed his condolences to the victims and their families, and said: “We shall ensure defense & security of motherland at the cost of our sweat & blood. These are dying efforts of frustrated inimical forces while Pakistan moves from stability to enduring peace. It’s time for the world to facilitate regional peace.”

Peace deal in the works?

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the spate in violence, saluting the armed forces and their efforts in keeping “the nation safe.”

The attacks come less than a week after US President Donald Trump welcomed Khan to the White House for the first time.

The meeting was held as US officials and Taliban leaders continue to hold multiple rounds of talks in Qatar aimed at ending the nearly 18-year US war in Afghanistan. The US has pressed Pakistan to use its leverage over the Taliban to encourage the militant group to reach a peace deal with the US.

Senior administration officials said on Monday that Trump would press the Pakistani prime minister to crack down on militants in Pakistan and provide more support for ongoing US-Taliban peace negotiations.

While Trump said Pakistan had previously been “subversive” to US efforts to combat the Taliban and other militants in Afghanistan, he suggested that any discord was in the past and touted Pakistan’s role in forging progress in the US-Taliban talks in recent weeks.

Khan argued that right now is “the closest we have been to a peace deal” in Afghanistan.

“We hope that in the coming days we will be able to urge the Taliban to speak with the Afghan government,” Khan said on Monday.

Security concerns

US-Pakistan relations have been on a rocky footing for years over Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban. They hit a low point last year when Trump suspended US security assistance to Pakistan over what the US saw as Pakistan’s failure to clamp down on the Taliban and other militant groups operating out of Pakistan.

The US is not at the moment planning to resume its security assistance to Pakistan absent concrete efforts to crack down on the Taliban and Haqqani network, a senior administration official said last week, though Trump said Monday the security aid “can come back depending on what we work out.”

“We will consider changing that suspension on certain items if Pakistan meets our security concerns both in Afghanistan and with regard to some of the externally focused groups,” the official said on Friday. “As of now, there is no change.”

But the invitation for Khan to meet with Trump at the White House was intended to show Pakistan that the “door is open to repairing relations and building an enduring relationship,” the official said.

Journalist Saleem Mehsud and CNN’s Kara Fox, Jeremy Diamond and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.