PESHAWAR, Pakistan — MIlitants killed 12 members of the security escort for a polio vaccination team in northwest Pakistan on Saturday, detonating a roadside bomb before opening fire on their convoy, according to officials.
The attack lasted an hour and when rescuers approached the scene the gunmen also attacked them, according to Khan Faraz, an official in the Jamrud area of Khyber, a rugged tribal region that borders Afghanistan.
Around a dozen wounded people were taken to the hospital, but others died on the road waiting for help to arrive, according to Faraz.
All the casualties were members of the levies or Khasadar, both locally recruited government-backed militias, according to Assistant Political Agent Jehangir Azam. They were providing security for the health workers.
Polio vaccination teams and government security forces are both frequently attacked. It was unclear who was the target on this occasion, according to a UNICEF spokeswoman.
Some religious leaders have denounced the multi-billion dollar vaccination campaign as a cover for spying or a plot to secretly sterilize Muslim children.
Pakistan is one of the last three countries in the world where polio remains endemic and the only one of those three countries where reported cases are increasing. The disease can kill or paralyse within a few hours.
In a separate incident in western Baluchistan province, a roadside bomb killed three members of a government parliamentary force in Sorab, located about 230 kilometers southwest of the provincial capital of Quetta.
Shortly afterwards, the parliamentary Frontier Corps announced that they were responsible for the killing of ten men in Sui, located 300 kilometers southeast of Quetta. They were carrying out an operation to search for militants who bombed gas pipelines, according to the Frontier corps.
Baluchistan, a mineral-rich province, is home to a bloody separatist insurgency, other militant groups, drug lords and government-backed death squads.
In recent weeks, the Pakistan government tried to initiate peace talks with the Taliban insurgency, an umbrella group of militant factions and the largest and deadliest of dozens of militant groups operating in Pakistan.
But peace talks failed after the Taliban bombed a bus of policeman and a faction of the Taliban claimed to have executed 23 kidnapped men from a government-run paramilitary force. Their bodies were never found.
The Pakistani military responded by bombing areas identified as militant hideouts. The attacks destroyed key hideouts and killed dozens of militants, according to the Pakistani military.
The air operations have sparked speculation that a much-anticipated offensive may finally be launched in North Waziristan, a tribal area along the border with Afghanistan that is considered the Taliban’s main stronghold.