- The Washington Times - Friday, September 14, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into a mess hall inside a high-security base used by a Pakistani counterterrorism force, killing at least 15 soldiers, officials said.

The militants’ ability to penetrate the elite force’s headquarters about 60 miles south of the capital was a severe blow to the army. It came hours after visiting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte met in Islamabad with President Pervez Musharraf, a key ally in Washington’s war on terrorism.

The army reported, meanwhile, that it had killed as many as 50 militants in a battle in the South Waziristan tribal region near the Afghan border.

The victims of the suicide attack belonged to the Karar commando group, which has participated in operations against Islamist militants in various parts of the country, according to two security officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of their jobs.

They said the bomber struck while dozens of soldiers were eating.

Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad, the army spokesman, said 15 soldiers were killed and 11 wounded, some seriously, in the blast at Ghazi Tarbela, in Pakistan’s volatile northwest.

Pakistan is under growing U.S. pressure to crack down on Taliban and al Qaeda in its border regions. The Karar group took part in a July raid against pro-Taliban militants in Islamabad’s Red Mosque that left more than 100 dead, Pakistan’s Geo television reported.

The Pakistani army says it has deployed 90,000 troops in the border region in an attempt to curtail the insurgency and stop guerrillas from crossing into Afghanistan to attack NATO forces.

But the military scaled back its operations under disputed peace deals signed last year and there is growing alarm that extremists have used the breathing space to exert control over ever-greater areas of the North-West Frontier Province.

Still, U.S. officials including Mr. Negroponte have said they welcome signs that Gen. Musharraf, who is seeking a new five-year term as president, is taking a tougher line against militants.

A statement issued by Gen. Musharraf’s office yesterday after Mr. Negroponte met the president said Washington had committed $750 million for the development of Pakistan’s tribal regions over five years.

Gen. Musharraf has been trying to enter a deal with exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto that would help his re-election bid and allow her to return home to become prime minister again. But with the presidential election due in less than five weeks, the two sides have yet to resolve crucial differences on how they might share power.

Mrs. Bhutto’s party warned yesterday that time was running out for Gen. Musharraf to finalize the pact. The warning comes in the wake of an attempt by another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, to return to Pakistan. Mr. Sharif was sent back into exile hours after he landed in Pakistan on Monday.

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