- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2008

PESHAWAR, Pakistan | A surge of violence continued unabated in Pakistan’s tribal border region Thursday, with a car bomb blasting a bus filled with police and government workers off a bridge and killing eight people aboard.

More than 200 people have died in Taliban bombings and clashes since longtime U.S. ally Pervez Musharraf quit as president and triggered a power struggle that caused the country’s ruling coalition to collapse.

U.S. officials have been pressing for more action against insurgent strongholds in Pakistan’s wild border region.

Pakistan’s military insists it is doing what it can to contain militants and prevent them from moving against NATO and Afghan troops on the other side of the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Pakistan’s army chief secretly met the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and other top American commanders Tuesday on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Indian Ocean to talk about what else could be done.

The meeting was the latest of several between Adm. Michael Mullen and Gen. Ashfaq Kayani.

A U.S. official familiar with the discussion said the meeting was “more collaborative,” compared to a similar one a month ago when Adm. Mullen took a “more firm tone” in warning Gen. Kayani that Islamabad was not doing enough to counter militants.

Adm. Mullen declined to give details about discussions with Gen. Kayani, but said he has been moving in the right direction.

Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said the commanders analyzed the security in the region and that no new agreements were struck.

Thursday’s powerful blast incinerated the car in which the bomb was hidden and left a massive crater in the middle of the long, concrete bridge near the city of Bannu.

The badly damaged bus smashed through a railing and tumbled about 30 feet into a riverbed.

Jalil Khan, the local police chief, said the bus was en route to a local prison to pick up several inmates. He said seven policemen and an education department official who had hitched a ride were killed.

Meanwhile, the military said government troops killed 23 militants in clashes Wednesday in the restive Swat Valley. The military has been battling Islamic extremists there for months.

Spokesman Maj. Murad Khan said helicopter gunships fired on militants riding in two vehicles and in a suspected hide-out. Troops later counted 23 bodies and found arms and ammunition.

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