Pakistan Airstrike Kills 30 Militants

A Pakistani army airstrike killed 30 militants in a northwest tribal area bordering Afghanistan on Saturday, while suicide attackers struck two police stations elsewhere in the troubled region, killing a police chief, authorities said.

The violence comes as Pakistan is cracking down on Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked militants on its soil, arresting several in an apparent sign that Islamabad is increasingly aligned with Washington's goals in the war against Islamist extremists.

Large swathes of Pakistan's northwest have become militant strongholds, and in some places, the Pakistani military has been waging offensives to push out the extremists.

An army statement said an airstrike Saturday hit a militant hide-out in the Shawal mountains of the South Waziristan tribal region after a tip that insurgents were hiding there. It said 30 militants were killed but provided no further details.

The military has been trying to clear South Waziristan of Pakistani Taliban fighters since October. The region is remote, dangerous and largely restricted to outsiders, making independent confirmation of the army's statement nearly impossible.

The two suicide attacks against police stations Saturday began within minutes of each other in Mansehra district, police official Gul Zareen said.

Local police chief Khalil Khan died and two officers and two passers-by were wounded when one attacker blew himself up inside the police station in Mansehra town, he said. A second suspect fled.

In the second attack, two people stormed a police station about 15 miles away in the town of Balakot, triggering a shootout that left one attacker dead. Two officers were wounded, while the second attacker fled.

Islamist militants in Pakistan frequently attack the country's security forces, and are also suspected of being involved in attacks on NATO and U.S. troops across the border in Afghanistan.

However, such assaults are relatively rare in Mansehra, about 90 miles northwest of the capital, Islamabad. Pakistan dismantled militant training facilities there after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

The U.S. has used missile strikes against militant targets in Pakistan's northwest, especially the lawless tribal regions where Al Qaeda chief Usama bin Laden and other insurgents are believed to be hiding.

One such attack in the North Waziristan tribal region Thursday apparently targeted Siraj Haqqani, a senior figure in a prominent Al Qaeda-linked network, but killed his brother, Mohammed Haqqani, and three associates instead, intelligence officials and a Taliban commander said.

Mohammed Haqqani and his associates were apparently killed as they headed home from the funeral of Sheikh Mansoor, an Egyptian-Canadian Al Qaeda-linked militant believed to be killed in a Wednesday missile attack, intelligence officials said, citing reports from local informants in North Waziristan.

The officials and the Taliban commander spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.

Mansoor is suspected to be the son of another militant, known as Sheikh Abdur Rehman al Kanadi, who was killed in a 2004 missile strike, the officials said. Mansoor frequently traveled between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the officials said.

The missile strikes were among several recent blows against militants using Pakistan as a place to rest, recruit and plan attacks in Afghanistan and on the West.

U.S. and Pakistani officials recently confirmed that Pakistani authorities earlier this month had arrested the No. 2 Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi.

Officials also have confirmed that a pair of Taliban "shadow governors" from two Afghan provinces and several other militant suspects linked to Al Qaeda and the Taliban have been picked up in recent days. Together the arrests are a major blow to the Afghan insurgency.

They also have raised speculation that Pakistan is now more willing to go after a group it long supported and sheltered on its soil.

Pakistan considered the Afghan Taliban as allies in its rivalry against India, and Islamabad has long downplayed or even denied the notion the Afghan Taliban's top commanders were even on its territory.

The Afghan Taliban are closely linked to but not the same as the Pakistani Taliban. The latter have attacked the Pakistani state, one reason the Pakistani military has waged offensives against them.

The crackdown on militants also comes as U.S., NATO and Afghan troops fight a major offensive against militants in the Taliban stronghold of Marjah in southern Afghanistan.