PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — A car packed with explosives exploded next to a pair of fuel tankers at an army check post in northwestern Pakistan, killing 17 soldiers and wounding dozens, officials said Sunday.
The attack Saturday night occurred in the North Waziristan tribal area, the main sanctuary for Taliban and al-Qaida militants along Pakistan's restive border with Afghanistan.
The blast set the fuel tankers on fire and destroyed two residential army barracks, said intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Janan Dawar, who lives about 14 kilometers (9 miles) away from the attack site in the town of Mir Ali, said he heard a huge explosion and saw flames leap into the air.
The blast killed 17 soldiers and wounded 34, said the intelligence officials. Three civilians were also wounded. Most of the soldiers who were killed were working for a wing of the army that is building roads in North Waziristan.
The U.S. has funded much of the road construction in the area in an attempt to win hearts and minds of the locals.
The army confirmed the death toll in a text message sent to reporters.
The Pakistani army has tens of thousands of soldiers based in North Waziristan but has resisted U.S. pressure to launch an offensive against Islamist militants in the area.
The U.S. has been pushing for an operation because Afghan Taliban militants use North Waziristan as a base to launch cross-border attacks against American troops in Afghanistan.
The Pakistani military says it can't launch an offensive because its forces are spread too thin fighting domestic Taliban militants who are waging war against the government.
But many analysts believe the Pakistani army is reluctant to cross Afghan militants with whom it has historical ties and could be useful allies in Afghanistan after most foreign forces withdraw at the end of 2014.
However, the area has become a greater problem for the Pakistani military because domestic Taliban militants have increasingly used it as a base of operations and conduct periodic attack against soldiers based in the area.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the latest attack.