After a new offensive by the Pakistan military against the Taliban in the frontier areas, the Taliban have struck back — by mounting a full-scale attack on a military-run school in Peshawar. The current death toll is 126, which includes two teachers and … most of the rest children between the ages of 12 and 16. The Taliban claims to be holding another 300 or more as hostages:

The Taliban stormed a military-run school in northwest Pakistan on Tuesday and gunned down at least 126 people, most of them children, in one of the country’s deadliest attacks in recent weeks.

Hours after the attack, the Pakistani military was still exchanging gunfire with the militants inside the Army Public School and Degree College, in the violence-plagued city of Peshawar, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the country’s capital, Islamabad. …

Mohammed Khurrassani, the TTP spokesman, told CNN the attack was revenge for the killing of hundreds of innocent tribesmen during repeated army operations in provinces including South Waziristan, North Waziristan and the Khyber Agency — all restive regions along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

For the past few months, the Pakistan military has been conducting a ground offensive aimed at clearing out militants in these areas. The campaign has displaced tens of thousands of people.

Khurrassani told Reuters (which spells his name differently) that the Taliban attackers had orders not to shoot the children:

Taliban spokesman Muhammad Umar Khorasani told Reuters his group was responsible for the attack.

“Our suicide bombers have entered the school, they have instructions not to harm the children, but to target the army personnel,” he said.

“It’s a revenge attack for the army offensive in North Waziristan,” he said, referring to an anti-Taliban military offensive that began in June.

If they had orders not to shoot children, they’re pretty bad at their jobs. That is a difficult claim to believe, given the choice of targets by the Taliban. As a military-run school it might be a legitimate target, but only in a theoretical sense. Sending suicide bombers against such a target guarantees that some children will be killed. If the Taliban wanted to protect the children, why target a school in the first place? Why not another military target instead, one with some real offensive capability? There are no shortage of such options in Pakistan.

The Taliban chose this target because killing the children was the entire point. They want to terrorize the populace and force a political change which either leaves the Taliban in charge or leaves them alone on the frontier in order to conduct their war in Afghanistan. It’s terrorism, pure and simple. And shameful cowardice, as terrorism always is.

Update: According to CNN, Pakistan police now claim that the attack is over and all Taliban militants have been killed:

The death toll for those in the school has risen to 131.