- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 7, 2007

MIRAN SHAH, Pakistan (AP) Government forces attacked two militant bases with helicopter gunships and artillery today in some of the army’s toughest action in the lawless Afghan border region since militant attacks began surging last month.

Spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad said troops targeted a pair of compounds in Daygan, a village 10 miles west of North Waziristan’s main town of Miran Shah, after they received credible intelligence that militants were there.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a key ally of the United States in its war on terror, is under rising pressure from Washington to crack down on militants in the tribal area.

He told visiting Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., in a meeting in the southern city of Karachi on Tuesday that comments by senior U.S. officials and presidential candidates about the possibility of unilateral U.S. strikes within the country were “counterproductive,” and that Pakistan remained resolved to fighting terrorism, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“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 ministry said. “The President pointed out that certain recent U.S. statements were counterproductive to the close cooperation and coordination between the two countries in combating the threat of terrorism.”

Musharraf’s comments were the highest-level rejection by Pakistan of the possibility of unilateral attacks.

President Bush said Monday that America and Pakistan, if armed with good intelligence, could track and kill al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan, but stopped short of saying whether he would ask the Pakistani president before dispatching U.S. troops there.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said Monday that al-Qaida and the Taliban had no safe havens in the tribal zone, contradicting assertions by senior U.S. officials that Osama bin Laden and other extremists are based in the area.

U.S.-made Cobra helicopter gunships and artillery launched the four-hour attack in North Waziristan about 5 a.m., Arshad said. No ground forces were used in the assault, and there was no immediate word on militant casualties.

“The militants used to regroup and prepare attacks on security forces and take refuge at these compounds, so security forces targeted them,” Arshad told Dawn television.

A local security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists, said the militants had fired back and both sides had used light and heavy weapons.

Residents in Miran Shah could hear the artillery and said a stray mortar shell struck a home, wounding two children and another civilian, who had been transported to a hospital in the town. The security official said a home in Daygan had been hit, and that three or four people had been injured.

The official said that shortly after the operation in Daygan village ended, militants in a nearby area began firing rockets at military checkpoints in the area. Troops fired back, and called in helicopter air support, the official said.

But a soldier was killed when a bomb exploded near him as he fetched water from a stream to a check point near Miran Shah, another intelligence official said.

Troops were withdrawn from key checkpoints under a controversial peace deal with pro-Taliban militants in September 2006, but started redeploying to North Waziristan early last month. Around the same time, an army raid on Islamabad’s pro-Taliban Red Mosque fueled anti-government sentiment and prompted outbreaks of militant violence.

More than 360 people have died in suicide bombings and clashes between militants and security forces.

Pakistan says it has 90,000 troops deployed near the border to combat militancy and attacks on Western and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.

In other violence today, two gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire on paramilitary forces in a town in North West Frontier Province, killing one, police official Israr Khan said. A bomb exploded at a bus station in Peshawar, the largest city in the northwest, but no one was hurt.

Associated Press Writer Riaz Khan from Peshawar contributed to this report.

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