Bombing, U.S. Strike Kill Dozens in Pakistan
PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Bombs destroyed an Internet cafe and wrecked a bus carrying handicapped children in northwest Pakistan, killing at least 11 people, while suspected U.S missiles annihilated a Taliban raiding party elsewhere in the volatile region.
Pakistani troops also claimed another 47 kills in their bid to retake the Swat Valley from the Taliban, making Saturday an especially bloody day for the Pakistani territory along the Afghan border.
Violence is engulfing that area as American and allied forces crank up the pressure on al-Qaida and Taliban militants entrenched in its forbidding and barely governed mountains and valleys. Washington and other nations are pouring in billions of dollars in aid and military assistance to prop up the pro-Western government in Islamabad.
The first of two bombs to explode in the main northwest city of Peshawar on Saturday was hidden in a car and devastated a street busy with traffic, shoppers and worshippers heading to mosques to pray.
Television images showed several vehicles burning fiercely and a stricken white-and-green bus that had been dropping handicapped children at their homes around the city.
All eight students still on board were injured, one seriously, along with the driver and an assistant, medics and police said. Four other children and seven adults were killed, and dozens more people injured, they said.
Safwat Ghayur, a senior police official, said one of several buildings badly damaged by the blast was an Internet cafe. Ghayur said the cafe had received several threats and was attacked recently by gunmen. It was unclear if any of the bomb victims had been in the cafe or if it was the intended target.
No group claimed responsibility for the car bomb, or a smaller explosion in the evening in a bazaar filled with ladies' clothes stores that police said injured four people.
Militants have vowed to carry out a constant stream of attacks in Pakistan in retaliation for dozens of American missile attacks on their strongholds in Pakistan's tribal areas.
In the latest strike, Pakistani officials said several missiles hit a religious school and a nearby vehicle on Saturday morning near Mir Ali, a town in the North Waziristan tribal region.
Two intelligence officials, citing reports from agents in the field, said 29 people were killed, including four foreign militants, and dozens more were wounded.
The identity of the victims was not immediately clear, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly to the media. However, they said the school was being used as a training camp by Gul Bahadur, a prominent Taliban commander, and that the group had been mustering for a mission in Afghanistan.
President Barack Obama has identified the elimination of militant sanctuaries in Pakistan as critical if America is to crush Al Qaeda and turn around its faltering Afghan war effort.
U.S. officials say the missile strikes, launched from remotely piloted aircraft, have killed a string of Al Qaeda commanders in the Pakistani border region over the past year. The area is considered the likely hiding place of Usama bin Laden.
However, Pakistan publicly protests the tactic, arguing it kills too many civilians and undermines efforts to turn tribal leaders away from hard-liners. The army this week rejected media reports that it was jointly controlling U.S. drone missions over Pakistan.
Further north, the army was preparing to assail Taliban militants entrenched in Mingora, the main town in the Swat Valley, from where nearly a million civilians have fled a three-week-old military offensive. About 100,000 are housed in sweltering relief camps.
The army says it has killed more than 800 of the estimated 4,000 militants in the valley and that many more have fled, some after shaving off their beards to blend in with the refugees.
Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said Saturday that 47 militants had been killed in the previous 24 hours and that one pocket of the valley near the town of Khwazakhela was safe enough for residents to return.
The military says it is advancing slowly in Swat to limit civilian casualties. It has not given a figure for civilian deaths, though witnesses have reported many, and its claims of militant kills are nearly impossible to verify because journalists have limited access to the dangerous region.
Public opinion appears to support the offensive, but the mood could quickly turn against the pro-Western government if the fighting drags on and civilian hardship mounts.