Tue, Jul 07, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Jets target North Waziristan, six killed

AP , MIR ALI, PAKISTAN

Pakistani fighter jets targeted suspected Taliban hideouts in a tribal region near Afghanistan on Sunday, killing as many as six people and raising the odds of a future military offensive there, intelligence officials said.

Elsewhere in the northwest, two bomb explosions killed two people and wounded 15 more in Upper Dir district, police said. The district sits at the edge of Swat Valley where Pakistan army says it is wrapping up a two-month-old offensive against Taliban militants.

Pakistan’s military has been targeting the Taliban in several northwestern areas since May, when it launched the Swat offensive to oust the militants, who sought to impose their harsh interpretation of Islam over large areas and are accused of plotting attacks on US troops across the border in Afghanistan.

Sunday’s airstrikes in North Waziristan hit several homes near the Afghan border, two intelligence officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media. The officials said six people died and several were wounded. They did not say if the dead were militants.

Two local residents, however, said that two people were killed and seven injured, and that all the victims were tribesmen. The witnesses, Shanawat Khan and Akhtarullah, said that three local tribesmen’s homes were hit in the Degan village area, roughly 40km from Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s armed forces are laying the groundwork for a full-scale offensive against Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan, but in recent days, clashes with insurgents and statements by militant leaders in neighboring North Waziristan have raised the possibility of army action there as well.

Pakistan’s army operations have been strongly supported by US officials eager to see an end to hide-outs for the militants implicated in attacks on American forces across the border in Afghanistan.

Over the past week, North Waziristan militant commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur said he was pulling out of a peace deal with the government, and his fighters took responsibility for a deadly ambush of troops in the region.

The army has warned that it will retaliate against tribes in the area who shelter Taliban militants, though it has stopped short of saying it will pursue an offensive. Sunday’s bombing may have been part of the retaliatory efforts.

Pakistan is trying to isolate Mehsud, who is blamed for a string of suicide attacks across the country.

Last week, in what appeared to be a boon for the army, militant leader Maulvi Nazir of South Waziristan declared a cease-fire against security forces in a deal whose terms were kept private.

But overnight on Sunday, an army camp in Angoor Ada, a part of the region purportedly under Nazir’s control, came under attack, prompting retaliatory fire from security forces, two other intelligence officials said. No casualties were immediately known.

Also, suspected militants attacked the Chakmalai army camp in South Waziristan with rockets and gunfire, wounding six soldiers. Security forces repulsed the assault with mortars and heavy artillery, said the two officials, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

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