- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 8, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — President Pervez Musharraf said yesterday that talk of U.S. military strikes against al Qaeda in Pakistan only hurts the fight against terrorism, and his troops bombarded militant hide-outs in their strongest response yet to a month of anti-government attacks. Ten suspected militants were killed.

The assault by artillery and helicopter gunships “knocked out” two compounds in Daygan village in the tribal belt near the border with Afghanistan that were being used as staging posts for attacks on security forces, said Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad, the army’s top spokesman.

Ten militants were killed and at least seven were wounded in the operation, about 10 miles west of Miran Shah, the main town in the North Waziristan region, he said.

No ground troops were used in the operation, and the report on militant casualties was based on information from “local sources,” he said without elaborating.

There were at least four smaller-scale bombings and shootings in the border region yesterday, the latest in almost daily violence that has intensified pressure on Gen. Musharraf to crack down on militants in the area.

Gen. Musharraf, a key ally in Washington’s war against terrorism, told visiting Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, that comments by senior U.S. officials and 2008 presidential hopefuls about the possibility of unilateral U.S. strikes within the country were not helpful. Gen. Musharraf met Mr. Durbin in the southern city of Karachi.

“He emphasized that only Pakistan’s security forces, which were fully capable of dealing with any situation, would take counterterrorism action inside Pakistani territory,” the Foreign Ministry said.

President Bush said Monday that the United States and Pakistan, if armed with good intelligence, could track and kill al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan. He stopped short of saying whether he would ask Gen. Musharraf before dispatching U.S. troops to the country.

Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat and a presidential candidate, has said that he would use military force in Pakistan if necessary to root out terrorists, prompting angry responses from Pakistani officials.

Gen. Musharraf also described a new bill tying U.S. aid to Pakistan to progress in combating militants as an “irritant in the bilateral relationship,” the ministry said.

His comments came two days before he is due to hold talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai about border security at a tribal council, or jirga, in Afghanistan.

Gen. Arshad said U.S.-made Cobra helicopter gunships and artillery attacked the compounds in North Waziristan about 5 a.m. after receiving intelligence that militants were there. Militants fired back with light and heavy weapons. The clash lasted about four hours, he said.

A local security official said a stray mortar round had hit a home in Miran Shah, injuring three or four people.

The Daygan assault appeared to be the toughest military action since troops withdrawn from the tribal zone in September began to redeploy there last month, following the collapse of a peace deal with pro-Taliban militants.