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Army says airstrike kills 30 Pakistani militants

Suicide attackers hit police stations

By Riaz Khan
Associated Press / February 21, 2010

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PESHAWAR, Pakistan - A Pakistani army airstrike killed 30 militants in a northwest tribal area bordering Afghanistan yesterday, while suicide attackers struck two police stations elsewhere in the troubled region, killing a police chief, authorities said.

The violence comes as Pakistan is cracking down on Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked militants on its soil, arresting several in an apparent sign that Islamabad is increasingly aligned with Washington’s goals in the war against Islamist extremists.

Large swaths of Pakistan’s northwest have become militant strongholds, and in some places, the Pakistani military has been waging offensives to push out the extremists.

An army statement said an airstrike yesterday hit a militant hide-out in the Shawal mountains of the South Waziristan tribal region after a tip that insurgents were hiding there. It said 30 militants were killed but provided no further details.

The military has been trying to clear South Waziristan of Pakistani Taliban fighters since October. The region is remote, dangerous, and largely restricted to outsiders, making independent confirmation of the army’s statement nearly impossible.

The two suicide attacks against police stations yesterday began within minutes of each other in Mansehra district, police official Gul Zareen said.

Local police chief Khalil Khan died and two officers and two passersby were wounded when one attacker blew himself up inside the police station in Mansehra town, he said. A second suspect fled.

In the second attack, two people stormed a police station about 15 miles away in the town of Balakot, prompting a shootout that left one attacker dead. Two officers were wounded, while the second attacker fled.

Islamist militants in Pakistan frequently attack the country’s security forces, and are also suspected of being involved in attacks on NATO and US troops across the border in Afghanistan.

However, such assaults are relatively rare in Mansehra, about 90 miles northwest of the capital, Islamabad. Pakistan dismantled militant training facilities there after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

The United States has used missile strikes against militant targets in Pakistan’s northwest, especially the lawless tribal regions where Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and other insurgents are believed to be hiding.

An attack in the North Waziristan tribal region Thursday apparently targeted Siraj Haqqani, a senior figure in a prominent Al Qaeda-linked network, but killed his brother, Mohammed Haqqani, and three associates instead, intelligence officials and a Taliban commander said.