- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 4, 2009

MIRAN SHAH, PAKISTAN (AP) - A suicide car bomber attacked a security checkpoint in northwestern Pakistan on Saturday, wounding at least three soldiers in a volatile area near the Afghan border where a suspected U.S. drone missile strike killed 13 people, officials said.

The attacker rammed his vehicle into a checkpoint at the entrance of army headquarters in North Waziristan and detonated his explosives, said Mohammad Azhar, a local government official.

The attack wounded three soldiers, according to a military official who said troops disrupted the attack in the town of Miran Shah by opening fire on the vehicle, causing it to explode before it reached the checkpoint. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

The discrepancy between the two accounts could not immediately be explained.

North Waziristan is believed to be an important base for al-Qaida and Taliban militants who have been staging cross-border attacks against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

A suspected U.S. drone fired two missiles at an alleged militant hide-out Saturday in North Waziristan, killing 13 people, intelligence officials and residents said.

The dead and injured included local and foreign militants, but women and children were also killed in the attack, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

A local tribal elder, Dilawar Khan, confirmed that 13 people were killed in the strike, saying the owner’s family was among the dead. He said he did not know the identities of the other people killed or whether there were militants staying at the home, in Data Khel village very close to the Afghan border.

Government officials were not immediately available for comment.

The U.S. is suspected of carrying out more than three dozen such strikes over the past year in Pakistan near the Afghan border. Pakistan says the drone strikes violate the country’s sovereignty, kill innocent civilians and generate sympathy for the militants. But the U.S. believes the attacks are an effective tool to combat militants in the region.

Some 700 people in the Orakzai tribal region near the Afghan border protested U.S. missile strikes Saturday, blocking a main road for two hours and chanting anti-American slogans, said a local resident, Azeem Khan.

President Barack Obama has said he will step up the pressure on Pakistan to crack down on militants in its territory by making aid to the country conditional on the government’s anti-terrorism efforts. Pakistan has said it is committed to the fight, but many Western officials suspect the country’s military intelligence agency of maintaining links with militant groups.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari defended his country’s commitment to fighting Islamic militants in a speech marking the 30th anniversary of the execution of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, an influential former prime minister who was hanged by a military regime on charges widely seen as politically motivated.

“People around the world say that our country will disintegrate. Some say that fundamentalists will rule the country,” Zardari told thousands of people who assembled Saturday morning at the slain politician’s tomb in southern Sindh province.

“But we will not let it happen as long as we are alive,” he said.

Bhutto was the father of Zardari’s late wife, Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister who was assassinated by militants at the end of 2007 not long after returning to the country from exile to run in national elections.

___

Associated Press writers Munir Ahmad and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad, Husnain Khan in Parachinar and Ashraf Khan in Garhi Khuda Bux contributed to this report.


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