String of attacks shows militants are unbowed
KHAR, Pakistan – Pakistani fighter jets bombed suspected militant hide-outs today in a tribal region where the military had previously declared victory over the Taliban, killing eight alleged extremists a day after 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.
Today’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, and information so far received from field informants showed at least eight bodies were recovered from the destroyed places,” local government official Tahir Khan said.
Also in Bajur on today, 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 army headquarters 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. 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.
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.