Security forces, militants clash in Pakistan
MIRAN SHAH, Pakistan – Islamic militants detonated bombs close to military convoys and attacked government positions in Pakistan’s restive northwestern tribal region, sparking gunfights that left 19 insurgents dead, government officials said Sunday.The fighting was the latest in North Waziristan since militants announced the termination of a peace agreement with the government last week following a deadly military raid on a radical mosque in the Pakistani capital. The tensions have raised concerns over the threat posed by Islamic militants to the military-led government of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.Since the July 10 raid on Islamabad’s Red Mosque, suicide attacks and shootings have killed at least 289 people in Pakistan, mostly in the volatile northwest.The latest violence in North Waziristan began when militants attacked various security posts overnight near Ghulam Khan, a town close to the Afghan border, said Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad, the army’s top spokesman.The troops retaliated, leading to clashes that killed 13 militants, he said.Later Sunday, fighting erupted after assailants detonated a bomb close to a military convoy near Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan. Assailants then opened fire from nearby hills on the outskirts of town, wounding five soldiers, Arshad said.Six militants were killed but fellow fighters took away their bodies, he said.Army gunship helicopters and troops on the ground strafed militant positions in response to the attack, but the fighting had eased by Sunday afternoon, Arshad said.A roadside bomb near another military convoy elsewhere in the region wounded four other soldiers, an intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.The peace accord in North Waziristan, aimed at stopping militants from crossing into neighboring Afghanistan, was signed last September and led to a period of relative calm.Since the mosque raid and the scrapping of the peace agreement, however, the region has been hit by suicide attacks targeting security forces. On Friday, a bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into a checkpoint on the outskirts of Miran Shah, killing one soldier and two passers-by.Pakistani officials have said that insurgents with suspected linked with to al-Qaida and the Taliban operate in North Waziristan with the support of pro-Taliban tribesmen. A recent U.S. intelligence report indicated militants were regrouping in the area.In Washington, a White House aide said Sunday that the U.S. would consider military force if necessary to stem al-Qaida’s growing ability to use its hideout in Pakistan to launch terrorist attacks.”Just because we don’t speak about things publicly doesn’t mean we’re not doing things you talk about,” President Bush’s homeland security adviser Fran Townsend said on “Fox News Sunday” when asked why the U.S. does not conduct special operations and other measures to cripple al-Qaida.”Job No. 1 is to protect the American people. There are no options off the table,” she said.Responding to Townsend’s comments, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri said that the country’s military was in the best position to attack al-Qaida, if the U.S. provided intelligence.”Let the United States provide us with actionable intelligence and you will find that Pakistan will never be lacking,” he said on CNN’s “Late Edition.” “Pakistan’s army can do the job much better and the result will be that there will be far less collateral damage.”The national intelligence director, Mike McConnell, said he believed that Osama bin Laden was living in the tribal border region of Pakistan, and that Musharraf’s attempt at a political solution to peace in the region had backfired by giving al-Qaida a place and time to regroup.”Al-Qaida has been able to regain some of its momentum,” McConnell said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “The leadership’s intact. They have operational planners, and they have safe haven. The thing they’re missing are operatives inside the United States.”Meanwhile, a 45-member delegation of tribal elders was in North Waziristan on Sunday on a government-backed mission to try to salvage the peace accord, the intelligence official said.Militants have accused the government of violating the accord by redeploying troops to checkpoints. They insist the soldiers be withdrawn to their barracks as specified in the agreement.The tribal elders were expected to report to government officials in Miran Shah on Sunday on their talks with the militants, the official said.—Associated Press writers Sadaqat Jan in Islamabad and Hope Yen in Washington contributed to this report.