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A powerful roadside bomb on Thursday targeted a military vehicle in northwestern Pakistan, a former militant stronghold, killing three soldiers and wounding four, the Pakistani military said. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, raising fears they were regrouping in the region.

The bombing happened as the troops were patrolling in North Waziristan, in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan, according to the military statement. It said suspected terrorists planted the bomb to target troops providing protection to road construction teams working there. Soldiers have cordoned off the area and launched a search operation, the military said.

Mohammad Khurasani, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack, which he said was launched in South Waziristan. Two Pakistani intelligence officials, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters, also said the attack happened in South Waziristan.

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The conflicting reports on the location of the attack could not immediately be reconciled. The Pakistani Taliban, or Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, is a separate insurgent group from the Afghan Taliban.

The area has served as a base for Pakistani and foreign militants until recent years, when the military claimed troops had cleared it.

The Pakistani Taliban have been targeting the military and civilians across the country since 2001, when this Islamic nation joined the U.S.-led war on terror following the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States. Since then, the insurgents have declared war on the government of Pakistan and have carried out numerous attacks, including a brutal assault on an army-run school in the city of Peshawar in 2014 that killed 140 children and several teachers.

Pakistan’s militant groups are often interlinked with those across the border in Afghanistan.

According to a recently released UN report, more than 6,000 Pakistani insurgents are hiding in Afghanistan, most belonging to the outlawed Pakistani Taliban, which has stepped up attacks on troops in recent weeks in the region.

Meanwhile, an Afghan soldier was killed and three others were wounded in a border clash with Pakistani troops on Thursday, an Afghan provincial official said.

The incident erupted when Afghan soldiers tried to stop Pakistani border troops from doing construction work to expand an installation that the Afghans see as encroaching on their territory, said Attaullah Khogywni, the spokesman of the governor of Nangarhar province.

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There was no comment from Pakistani officials and Khogywni said the situation was later defused.

Pakistani and Afghan troops often exchange fire along the border, which the Pakistani side has been fencing off since 2017 to prevent militants from launching cross-border attacks.

Pakistan considers the 1893 colonial-era division that drew the 2,500-kilometre (1,500-mile) line between the two countries, known as the Durand Line, as an international border, while Kabul has never recognized the boundary.

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