PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Three homicide attackers, including a woman, attacked a police station in northwestern Pakistan, killing 13 people Friday while army airstrikes killed a dozen suspected militants in a Taliban stronghold ahead of an expected ground offensive.
The bombing in Peshawar city was the latest in a surge of terrorist attacks over the last 11 days that has killed more than 150 people and underscored the power of the Taliban, who have warned the army against launching any operation in the militants' base close to the Afghan border.
In Islamabad, the army chief met with the prime minister and other political leaders for talks that included plans for an offensive in South Waziristan, a military and an intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
The bombings targeted a heavily fortified police station in Peshawar, the main city in the northwest.
One attacker drove a car filled with explosives to the main gate of the police station, as a motorcycle carrying a man and a woman pulled up behind it, Peshawar police chief Liaquat Ali Khan said.
The woman jumped off and ran toward a nearby housing complex where army officers live, while the man smashed the motorcycle into the car, which exploded into a huge fireball, he said. Police shot at the woman, who detonated explosives she was wearing.
The blast destroyed part of the police station and a mosque next to it.
The blast killed 13 people, including three police officers, two women and two children, said Gul Khan, a local police official. Another 15 people were wounded.
Insurgents have sent attackers wearing military uniforms to bypass security to carry out some of their recent raids. But the use of a female suicide bomber is extremely rare here and could signal a new tactic by the extremists.
In December 2007, what was believed to be the country's first female bomber blew herself up near a Christian school while apparently aiming for a military post in Peshawar. There were no other casualties.
The attack came a day after militants launched coordinated attacks on three law enforcement compounds in the country's second-largest city of Lahore, killing 19 people as well as the nine attackers. Also Thursday, a car bomb in Peshawar killed a small child at a housing complex for government employees.
Initial investigations into the Lahore attacks show Taliban from the Afghan border region and militants from Punjab province were responsible, authorities have said. That has fueled concerns the Taliban are forging links with other militant groups in the country, an alliance that would vastly increase the threat to the U.S.-allied government.
Observers say Punjab's militant problem is most pervasive in its south. But speaking to reporters in Lahore on Friday, provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah played down any such threat.
"The Taliban don't have any authority in southern Punjab, and there is no need for any operation against them," he said.
The government has said the planning for the attacks is often done near the Afghan border, while the foot soldiers are recruited in Punjab, which borders India and is Pakistan's most populous province. In claiming responsibility for another recent attack, the Taliban said one of their cells in Punjab had carried it out.
The U.S. hopes that a Pakistani army operation in South Waziristan, the Taliban's main stronghold, will help break much of the militant network that threatens both Pakistan and American troops across the border in Afghanistan.
The Pakistani army has given no time frame for the expected ground offensive in South Waziristan, but it has spent months softening targets there with airstrikes.
Jets struck six militant positions in the region Friday, killing 12 militants and wounding eight, a government and an intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.
The two officials said they received the reports from agents in the field.
The army has reportedly already sent two divisions totaling 28,000 men and blockaded the area. Analysts say that with winter approaching, any push would likely have to begin soon to be successful.