ISLAMABAD (AP) — Clashes this week between two competing factions of the Pakistani Taliban in the country's remote northwest killed dozens of fighters, intelligence officials and militant commanders said Friday.
The clashes, the result of a power struggle in the militant group, come at a time when the government is trying to negotiate a peace deal with the Pakistani Taliban. The violence likely will complicate those efforts.
One senior Taliban commander put the number of dead at 23. Other Taliban commanders and intelligence officials put the number as high as 43.
There was no immediate way to independently confirm the death toll in the remote and dangerous area. The officials and commanders all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.
The most recent clashes came Friday when a roadside bomb killed three militants in North Waziristan, intelligence officials said.
The fighting also stretched into South Waziristan. Both are tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan and home to numerous militant groups fighting in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The power struggle is between two men — Shehryar Mehsud and Khan Sayed Sajna — who both want to control the Mehsud faction of the Pakistani Taliban, formally called Tehrik-e-Taliban.
The Mehsuds historically have been the largest and most powerful faction of the organization. The tension goes back to 2009 when the then-leader of the militant group, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a drone strike, and there was a struggle within the organization about who would take over.
With the death last November of the top Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud in another drone strike, the rivalry has once more come to the surface.
The Pakistani Taliban has been battling the government in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan for years. At least one splinter group attack has been carried out even after Taliban leaders announced a now-expired cease-fire with the government for peace talks.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has promised to end the years of fighting by negotiating with the militants instead of carrying out military operations. But Mansur Mahsud from the FATA Research Center, which studies the tribal regions, said the clashes this week will complicate the process.
"It would make it very difficult that the talks would succeed, because there's the factions who are against the talks and then there is inter-Taliban clashes," he said.
Associated Press writer Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.