A car bomb killed nine people close to the main northwestern city of Peshawar on Wednesday, the latest in a rash of attacks that are challenging police claims of progress against Islamist militants in the region.

Twenty others were wounded in the blast on a main road leading to Pakistan's border area with Afghanistan, said government official Siraj Ahmed Khan. Three children were among the dead.

The target of the bombing was not immediately clear. It was the third major bombing in or near the city in the last week.

Government and security force targets in Peshawar have been often attacked by the Pakistani Taliban, who have bases close to Afghanistan. Pakistani forces have traditionally had very little presence or authority in the tribally ruled region.

In December, city police chief Liaquat Ali Khan pointed to a drop in attacks in 2010 as evidence that authorities had "broken the back" of the insurgency in Peshawar. He said the improvement was because of police and army operations close to the border and more patrols and checkpoints in the city.

Also in the northwest, a group of militants on Wednesday attacked a security post in the Anarggi area of Mohmand tribal region, killing three paramilitary soldiers and wounding four. The troops returned fire and killed 16 insurgents, said Javed Khan, a government administrator.

Later in the day, a roadside bomb hit a paramilitary vehicle in the Davezai area of Mohmand, killing one soldier and wounding three others, Khan said. An artillery shell fired by the military hit a house in the area, killing two women, he said.

In the nearby Orakzai tribal region, fighter jets pounded suspected militant hideouts, killing 15 alleged militants and wounding 10 others, said local government administrator Aurangzeb Khan.

Both Mohmand and Orakzai have seen anti-militant offensives by the Pakistani army over the past three years, but the militants have proven a tough enemy.

Elsewhere in the tribal area, several mortars fired from Afghanistan landed near an army checkpoint in the Ghulam Khan area of North Waziristan on Wednesday, killing one Pakistani soldier and wounding three others, said Pakistani intelligence officials.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. The attack sparked an intense gunbattle, they said.

Other Pakistani intelligence officials said the attack came from an Afghan security post across the border. They spoke on condition of anonymity for the same reasons.

Gen. Abdul Hakim Isaqzai, provincial chief of police in Afghanistan's Khost province, confirmed that border clashes have involved Afghan police using small arms. He could not confirm the use of mortars.

The fighting followed a decision by Afghan police to set up a checkpoint on their side of the border about 10 days ago, he said. Isaqzai blamed the Pakistanis for starting the clashes.

Also Wednesday, police said gunmen killed four policemen and kidnapped four others, including a senior local official, in separate incidents on the previous night in Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province.

The dead included a local police chief, said police official Khamisa Khan.

No group claimed responsibility for the attacks. A low-level insurgency in Baluchistan has sought for decades to pressure the federal government for more autonomy and a greater share of the province's natural resources.


Associated Press writers Rasool Dawar in Peshawar, Pakistan, Abdul Sattar in Quetta, Pakistan, Hussain Afzal in Parachinar, Pakistan, Anwarullah Khan in Khar, Pakistan, and Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.