Attacks on soldiers, mosque kill 9 in Pakistan

AP News
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Posted: Oct 22, 2010 10:24 AM
Attacks on soldiers, mosque kill 9 in Pakistan

Bombs hit a mosque and a group of soldiers in northwest Pakistan on Friday, killing nine people. Army airstrikes later in the day killed 22 suspected insurgents in the area where the soldiers had been traveling, officials said.

The bombings showed the fragility of the military's gains in its offensives against al-Qaida and Taliban insurgents along the border with Afghanistan. The United States Friday laid out a five-year, $2 billion military aid package for Pakistan, a key regional ally in the fight against extremists there and in neighboring Afghanistan.

In the first attack, a roadside bomb tore through a vehicle carrying paramilitary soldiers in the upper half of the Orakzai tribal region, where the army declared victory over the Taliban in the summer.

The blast killed six soldiers, including a lieutenant colonel, and wounded three others, security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record to media.

Hours later, Pakistani helicopter gunships pounded three spots in upper Orakzai and the neighboring Kurram tribal region and killed 22 suspected insurgents, local government officials Aurangzeb Khan and Jamil Khan said. It was not immediately clear whether the airstrikes were retaliation or not.

The second bomb attack hit a Sunni mosque on the outskirts of Peshawar, the capital of the northwestern province. Besides the three killed, 22 people were wounded, said senior police official Liaquat Ali.

The blast occurred during Friday prayers, which are typically the most attended prayer sessions of the week.

Pakistan is majority Sunni, and sectarian violence pitting Sunnis against Shiite Muslims is common in the country. But police official Ejaz Ahmad said the 1.5 kilogram bomb may have been planted to avenge a recent crackdown on militants in the area.

Broken glass and bricks were scattered in the mosque, whose walls were cracked, Pakistani TV showed.

"It is a war which will continue until the complete eradication of terrorism," said the province's information minister, Mian Iftikhar Hussain.

The U.S. has praised Pakistan's operations against militant groups, largely because many of the insurgent movements are believed to also be involved in attacking American and NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the new aid package at the end of the latest round of U.S.-Pakistani strategic talks in Washington. The administration will ask Congress for $2 billion for Pakistan to purchase U.S.-made arms, ammunition and accessories from 2012 to 2016, Clinton said.

The new military aid replaces a similar but less valuable package that began in 2005 and expired on Oct. 1. It will complement $7.5 billion in civilian assistance the administration has already committed to Pakistan over five years, some of which has been diverted to help the country deal with devastating floods.

The U.S. hopes the announcement, made by Clinton with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi at her side, will reassure Islamabad of Washington's long-term commitment to Pakistan's military needs. The aid also should help Pakistan bolster its efforts to go after Taliban and al-Qaida affiliates on its territory.

The fight has had setbacks.

The offensive in Orakzai, for instance, has had mixed results. It came on the heels of an operation against the Pakistani Taliban in the South Waziristan tribal area. Many of the South Waziristan insurgents were believed to have fled north to Orakzai.

For months, the military pounded Orakzai with airstrikes, eventually staging a ground operation as well. The offensive intensified in March, with the reported daily death tolls of suspected militants sometimes in the dozens.

In June, the Pakistani army declared victory over the Taliban in Orakzai, saying the tens of thousands of civilians forced to flee could expect to return home soon. But that declaration appeared premature _ fighting was reported in the days afterward, and civilian returns have been limited.

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Ahmed reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Washington, D.C., and Hussain Afzal in Parachinar contributed to this report.