Asia PacificTerrorism

Pakistan Taliban Blast Kills Five Police Protecting Polio Teams

A roadside bomb killed at least five police officers deployed to protect polio vaccination workers in northwestern Pakistan Monday, officials said, in an attack claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) group.

Pakistani districts along the border with Afghanistan have seen a dramatic spike in attacks since the Taliban returned to power there in 2021.

Islamabad claims Kabul is sheltering allied militants such as the TTP — also known as the Pakistan Taliban — allowing them to strike on its soil with impunity.

The TTP said in a statement it had “successfully detonated a mine on a police” vehicle in Bajaur district, around 14 kilometres (nine miles) from the Afghan border.

“A police truck transporting around 25 policemen for anti-polio campaign duties was targeted by an IED (improvised explosive device),” Anwar ul Haq, a senior government official in Bajaur district, told AFP.

He said five officers were killed and at least 20 others wounded.

Kashif Zulfiqar, a senior police officer in the district, confirmed the death toll from the attack, which occurred in the rural area of Mamund.

In its statement, the TTP said claims the attack was associated with the polio vaccination campaign were “entirely false.”

Scores Killed

Islamist militants, including the TTP, have killed scores of polio vaccination workers and their security escorts in the past.

Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only countries where the debilitating virus, which can cause lifelong disability, remains endemic.

Pakistan had six reported cases in 2023, and Monday marked the start of a nationwide drive to vaccinate millions of children.

Opposition to inoculation grew after the US Central Intelligence Agency organized a fake vaccination drive to help track down Al-Qaeda’s former leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

Firebrand clerics in the border region with Afghanistan have also spread misinformation that doses of the oral vaccine contain traces of pork and alcohol, which are forbidden by Islam.

Pakistan is due to hold a delayed general election on February 8, as the country grapples with overlapping security, economic and political crises.

Last year saw casualties hit a six-year high, with more than 1,500 civilians, security forces and militants killed, according to the Islamabad-based Center for Research and Security Studies.

Afghanistan’s Taliban government has routinely denied giving militants sanctuary.

But a UN Security Council report said last year there were between 4,000 and 6,000 TTP fighters in Afghanistan who “the Taliban have harbored and allowed active support of.”

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