Pakistan Bombs Taliban Hideouts After Siege
KHAR, Pakistan – Pakistani fighter jets bombed suspected militant hide-outs Monday in a tribal region where the military had previously declared victory over the Taliban, killing 13 alleged extremists a day after the end of a deadly siege of the army's headquarters.
A series of attacks over the past week shows that the Taliban have rebounded and appear determined to shake the nation's resolve as the military plans for an offensive in South Waziristan, the insurgents' main stronghold along the Afghan border that has never been fully under the government's control.
Monday's airstrikes were in Bajur, a separate segment of the lawless northwestern tribal belt where Pakistan waged an intense six-month offensive that wound down in February. Resurgent violence in Bajur could distract the military as it tries to focus on South Waziristan.
"This was a heavy spell of bombing," said local government official Tahir Khan, who put the death toll at 13. Nine other alleged militants were wounded, he said.
Also in Bajur on Monday, a remote-controlled bomb went off in front of the political administration office in the main city of Khar, wounding a passer-by. In addition, militants were suspected of abducting 10 tribal elders after they attended a meeting aimed at forming a citizens' militia to protect against the Taliban, said Faramosh Khan, another local official.
The 22-hour weekend standoff at Pakistan's "Pentagon" in the city of Rawalpindi followed warnings from police as early as July that militants from western border areas were joining those in the central Punjab province in plans for a bold attack on army headquarters.
A team of 10 gunmen in fatigues launched the frontal assault on the very core of the nuclear-armed country's most powerful institution. The violence killed 20, including three hostages and nine militants, while 42 hostages were freed, the military said.
The suspected ringleader in the raid, known as Aqeel, also was believed to have orchestrated an ambush on Sri Lanka's visiting cricket team in Lahore this year. Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said the militant's nickname, "Dr. Usman," derived from the time he spent as a guard at an army nursing school before he joined the insurgents.
The U.S. has long pushed Islamabad to take more action against Taliban and Al Qaeda militants, who are also blamed for attacks on U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, and the army carried out a successful campaign against the militants in the northwestern Swat Valley in the spring.
But the army had been unwilling to go all-out in the lawless tribal areas along the border that serve as the Taliban's main refuge. Three offensives into South Waziristan since 2001 ended in failure, and the government signed peace deals with the militants.
In the wake of the seige in Rawalpindi, the government said it would not be deterred. The military launched two airstrikes Sunday evening on suspected militant targets in South Waziristan, killing at least five insurgents and ending a five-day lull in attacks there, intelligence officials said.
"We are going to attack the terrorists, the miscreants over there who are disturbing the state and damaging the peace," Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said. "Wherever they will be, we will follow them. We will pursue them. We will take them to task."
Officials have warned that Taliban fighters close to the border, Punjabi militants spread out across the country and foreign Al Qaeda operatives were increasingly joining forces, dramatically increasing the dangers to Pakistan.
The weekend strike on army headquarters was a stunning finale to a week of attacks that highlighted the militants' ability to strike a range of targets.
On Monday of last week, a suicide bomber dressed as a paramilitary police officer blew himself up inside a heavily guarded U.N. aid agency in the heart of the capital, Islamabad. On Friday, a suspected militant detonated an explosives-laden car in the middle of a busy market in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing 53 people.