ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A Pakistani court has ordered an American detained for two more weeks after he was accused of trying to enter a militant stronghold near the Afghan border, police said Monday.
The extended detention of 20-year-old Jude Kenan of Raleigh, North Carolina comes as America's top diplomat in the region, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, praised Pakistan for its military offensive against Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in the lawless tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.
Some U.S. officials doubt that Islamabad is willing or able to take on the militants and criticized earlier army operations that ended in short-lived peace deals they say gave the extremists time to regroup.
But Boucher said he was encouraged by what he was seeing in the border region of Bajur, where troops launched a major offensive in August that officials claim has killed 1,000 militants.
"I think it is good Pakistan is taking serious military action against the terrorists," Boucher told reporters after three days of meetings with Pakistani leaders, including the president. "We have seen the government has shown the determination and willingness to see this through to the end."
Kenan, the American detainee, tried to enter the Mohmand tribal region a week ago. Authorities have not said whether they suspect him of contact with Taliban or Al Qaeda militants. Kenan's family says he was in the country to visit his Pakistani father.
It was not immediately clear if Boucher discussed Kenan's case during meetings with Pakistan's president and other officials.
Militants in the tribal regions have put up strong resistance to the Pakistan military offensive and have stepped up suicide attacks around the country, including last month's blast at the Marriott hotel in Islamabad that killed 54 people.
The insurgents are also blamed for attacks on U.S. and NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan, where violence is running at record levels, leaving many doubting whether the seven-year-old war there can be won.
Boucher dismissed reports of peace negotiations between the government and Taliban in Afghanistan after militants sat down with Afghan officials in Saudi Arabia last month.
"At this point I can say there is not much there," Boucher said.
Boucher's visit comes amid a surge in violence on both sides of the border and tensions over U.S. missile strikes on targets within Pakistan. The missile strikes — and a highly unusual ground raid by American commandos last month — have angered civil and military leaders, who say they fan militancy.
In line with apparent American policy of not confirming or denying the strikes, Boucher did not directly answer or ignored questions about the raids, but did say that some reports blaming America for attacks were wrong.
"Every time something explodes there, the U.S. is accused of doing it," he said.
In the latest violence close to the border, twelve suspected militants were killed in Bajur in shelling or airstrikes overnight and into Monday, said Jamil Khan, the No. 2 representative of the government in the largely autonomous area.
The military does not release figures on civilian deaths, though Bajur residents have reported that many have been killed.
In the northwest's Swat Valley, the army raised the death toll from clashes the previous day to 25 suspected militants while saying a further seven were killed Monday.
Sunday's bombs hit an ammunition dump in the Barthana area, causing extensive damage.
The army said it had no reports on civilian casualties there. But Anwer Ali, a Barthana resident, told The Associated Press in a phone interview the bombing by fighter jets had hit a house, killing a woman and two of her children.