A suicide attack has killed seven Pakistani soldiers in a restive northwestern tribal region near the Afghan border, the military said on Monday.

The incident happened in North Waziristan, where the military has been fighting militants linked to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda since June last year.

“When being chased and cordoned, a terrorist exploded his suicide jacket Sunday night. Resultantly, seven soldiers embraced shahadat (martyrdom)”, the military said in a statement.

The blast triggered a gunbattle between militants and troops in which 19 insurgents were killed, the military said.

The area is remote and off-limits to journalists, making it difficult to verify the army’s claims such as the number and identity of those killed.

Pakistan has been battling a homegrown Islamist insurgency for over a decade following the late 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan.

The Pakistan army began a major campaign against Taliban as operation Zarb-e-Azb and other militant strongholds in North Waziristan in June last year. Authorities have now vowed to intensify operations both in the border regions and across the country.