PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Gunmen opened fire Friday at the home of the army commander heading the military offensive against Taliban militants in Pakistan's northwest, sparking a gunbattle just hours after a homcide attack at a police checkpoint, officials said.
The overnight attacks in Peshawar city were the latest of several targeting security forces and blamed on militants retaliating for the military's assault on Taliban militants in the nearby Swat Valley region. More than 60 people have died in the wave of attacks since May 27.
The attack on the Peshawar home of Lt. Gen. Masood Aslam triggered a gunbattle that killed two suspected militants, said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the provincial information minister.
Hours earlier, a coordinated homicide attack on a police checkpoint in the city killed one officer and wounded a dozen other people. The assailants lobbed a grenade at the checkpoint and when police rushed to respond, a suicide bomber ran forward and blew himself up, said police Superintendent Nisar Marwad.
"We are faced with a Baghdad-like situation, and now we must think to divide the city of Peshawar in different zones like Baghdad to secure the city," Hussain told The Associated Press, referring to parts of the Iraqi capital that are heavily fortified to guard against insurgent attacks.
The Peshawar attacks came after Pakistani troops and militants engaged in multiple battles Thursday as fighting in the northwest spread and intensified.
The clashes near the border with Afghanistan were sparked by militant attacks, however, and there was no sign that the military was launching a new major offensive in the lawless tribal belt, where the Taliban and al-Qaida have entrenched themselves in recent years.
The Pakistani army is continuing an operation to oust the Taliban from the Swat region. Officials in Washington say privately they would like to see that operation extended to include the North and South Waziristan areas, where al-Qaida and Taliban militants allegedly have bases to foment violence against American troops in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has not announced plans for a new offensive in the tribal belt, and may first want to finish the Swat operation and deal with the huge humanitarian crisis it spawned. More than 2 million people have been uprooted from their homes by the fighting, and about 200,000 are living rough in refugee camps.
But fighting has spilled out of Swat in the past week, as militants stepped up attacks on security forces and the army has replied with artillery, gunships and assault forces in some areas.
The army said in a statement Thursday that about 400 militants using guns and rockets attacked two forts at Siplatoi and Jandola in South Waziristan, the base of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud. More than 20 militants were killed and "a large number" wounded, and three troops died, it said.
Also in the northwest, the military said it had secured two villages in Upper Dir where militants had holed up after being fought into retreat during five days of clashes with a citizens' militia. It said 34 militants were killed, and one civilian died in a militant rocket attack.
Taliban in the villages of Shatkas and Ghazi Gay were still besieged by the militia, which sprang up to deliver payback for a recent deadly mosque bombing, the military said.
Clashes also continued in several areas in Swat, killing 10 militants, the army said. The military says it has killed more than 1,300 militants during the offensive and reclaimed most of the region.