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Insurgent clash with Pakistan troops kills at least 33, officials say

ISLAMABAD -- Militants attacked a hilltop army position in volatile northwest Pakistan early Friday, leaving at least 33 dead in the latest skirmish in a campaign in which neither side appears to have the upper hand.

At least 10 Pakistan army soldiers were killed and seven others injured in the remote Tirah valley of Khyber tribal region, in a militant attack on three security checkpoints. A senior military official in Khyber tribal region said the soldiers killed 23 militants in retaliation.

"Dozens of militants attacked the three recently established security checkpoints in the area which led to heavy fighting between the two sides," an unnamed military official told NBC News.

Images of daily life, political pursuits, religious rites and deadly violence.

Pleading anonymity, he said helicopters had been sent to the mountainous area to bring the bodies and injured soldiers to Peshawar.

Casualties could not be independently verified and militants often dispute official accounts, Reuters reported.

Another security official told NBC News the security forces had recently captured important militant positions and made it difficult for the Taliban fighters to easily move from Khyber to Orakzai, Kurram and North Waziristan.

Several Pakistani military offensives in the tribal regions such as Khyber have failed to crush militant groups.

Stalemate at the border
The insurgency is led by the Pakistani Taliban, formally known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has an active faction in Khyber.

The military campaign along the entire border region and across several tribal agencies involves more than 100,000 Pakistani troops, but it has effectively reached a stalemate in many areas.

Formed in 2007, the TTP is an umbrella organization of militant groups allied with the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida. It pledged to overthrow the Pakistani government after the military stepped up operations against militants five years ago.

Khyber is one of seven ethnic Pashtun tribal regions along the porous border which have never come under the full control of the state. Militants have taken advantage of the area's lawlessness to set up strongholds.

Khyber is one of the main land supply routes to Afghanistan for U.S.-led NATO troops, suspended by Pakistan after a cross-border clash in November last year that left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead.

Meanwhile on Friday, unknown gunmen opened fire at a car and shot dead an inspector of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) in Peshawar.

An official of the Michani police said Inspector Bashir Khan was traveling in a car along with his son when unidentified gunmen opened fire at him.

He died on the spot, while his injured son was taken to hospital.

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Mushtaq Yusufzai, NBC News producer in Islamabad, and Reuters contributed to this report.