PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Soldiers fighting in Pakistan's tribal region who battled militants overnight found 17 bodies Saturday dumped in the countryside, identifying them all as insurgents, a government administrator and the army said.
The fighting took place in Pakistan's Khyber tribal region bordering Afghanistan, an area targeted in an ongoing military operation. Pakistan's local Taliban have promised to send more of its fighters into the region to battle government forces.
Late Friday night, militants attacked security forces in the Spin Qamar region of the tribal area, 50 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of Peshawar, the capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, government administrator Khalid Khan said. The gun battle raged for several hours and soldiers found the 17 bodies, all identified as militants, early Saturday morning in three different locations, Khan said.
In a statement, the Pakistan army said dozens of militants attacked a security checkpoint there late Friday.
"The attack was valiantly repulsed" and "terrorists ran away leaving behind 17" bodies of their associates, the statement read.
The information could not be independently corroborated with local residents. Journalists aren't allowed to report from Pakistan's tribal regions.
In October, Pakistan launched in the Khyber tribal area to eliminate local militants targeting security forces. Local and foreign militants use the region as a base to launch attacks in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan, there targeting both Afghan and NATO forces.
Friday's attack came hours after the Pakistani Taliban announced it would dispatch fighters to Khyber to assist local militants fighting security forces.
In its statement, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan also named Mohammad Khurassani as its new spokesman.
Khurassani replaces Shahidullah Shahid, who last month announced his allegiance to Iraqi militant Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who leads the Islamic State group and wants to create a caliphate, or Islamic empire, in the Middle East. The Islamic State group now controls a third of both Iraq and neighboring Syria and is the target of airstrikes launched by a U.S.-led coalition of countries.
The Pakistani Taliban have been on the run since June 15 when Pakistan launched a major operation in their stronghold in the North Waziristan tribal region, which also borders Afghanistan. The military says it has cleared 90 percent of North Waziristan during the operation, which displaced over 800,000 residents.
Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.