Pakistan: 25 dead in suicide bomb, US missile hit

Overnight Saturday, three suspected US missiles hit a compound and a bunker in the Mohammad Khel area of North Waziristan, part of a surge in the drone-fired strikes.

Pakistan violence (photo credit: AP)
Pakistan violence
(photo credit: AP)

A suicide bomber killed16 people at a police checkpoint in a northwestern Pakistani tribalarea where the military declared victory over the Taliban and al-Qaidalast year, highlighting the difficulty Islamabad has in holding regionsonce the battle phase of its army offensives end.

Elsewhere inthe lawless tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, suspected US missileskilled nine alleged militants, intelligence officials said.

Fourteencivilians and two police officers died in the suicide attack Saturdayin the Bajur tribal region, while 20 people were wounded, localgovernment official Bakhat Pacha said. The attacker, on foot, struck amarket area in the region's main town, Khar, he said.

Some of the wounded were in critical condition at hospitals, he said.

Theattack came a day after officials said security forces had killed 44 terrorists in three days of battles on the outskirts of Khar.

Pakistanwaged a major military offensive against Taliban and al-Qaidainsurgents in Bajur in 2008, declaring victory over the Islamists byFebruary 2009. But in recent weeks, clashes and now this latest suicideattack have signaled a deteriorating security situation in the area.

The violence comes as Pakistan'sarmy has focused on an offensive in the South Waziristan tribal region,the primary stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban. That militaryoperation is believed to have led many militants to flee to other partsof the tribal belt.

The US has praised the Pakistanioperations, but also wants Islamabad to pursue terrorists in NorthWaziristan, where many of the insurgent groups are focused on battlingWestern troops across the border in Afghanistan.

Washington has waged its own fight in Pakistan's tribal territories through its covert CIA-led missile program.

OvernightSaturday, three suspected US missiles hit a compound and a bunker inthe Mohammad Khel area of North Waziristan, part of a surge in thedrone-fired strikes, Pakistani intelligence officials said. Themountainous area is where a suspected US drone is reported to havecrashed on Jan. 24, they added.

Two missiles in Saturday's attackhit the compound being used by the terrorists, killing seven of them,the intelligence officials said. The third killed two more insurgentsin the bunker, they said.

Another such missile strike early thismonth targeted a meeting of Islamist commanders in an apparentlyunsuccessful attempt to kill Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud.

ThePakistani Taliban are believed to have played a role in the Dec. 30suicide bombing of a remote CIA base in Afghanistan's eastern Khostprovince that killed seven of the agency's employees. Analysts suspectthe Haqqani network, an al-Qaida-linked Afghan Taliban faction based inNorth Waziristan, also helped carry out the CIA attack.

Since theCIA was hit, the US has carried out 13 suspected drone strikes inNorth and South Waziristan, an unprecedented volley of attacks sincethe missile program began in earnest in Pakistan two years ago.

The three officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information to the media.

TheUS does not usually comment on the strikes or their targets, butofficials have said in the past that they have taken out several senioral-Qaida and Taliban leaders. The Pakistani government publiclycondemns the strikes as violations of its sovereignty, yet it isthought to have a secret deal with Washington allowing them.