- Associated Press - Monday, December 6, 2010

PESHAWAR, Pakistan | Two militants wearing vests studded with explosives and bullets blew themselves up outside a government-backed meeting of anti-Taliban tribesmen close to the Afghan border Monday, killing 50 people and wounding 100 others.

The strike in Mohmand region underscored the tenacity of the Islamist uprising in the northwest despite Pakistani army offensives over the past 2½ years. The operations have retaken areas where militants enjoyed safe haven, but authorities have struggled to hold onto the gains.

The tribally administered region is home to thousands of militants staging or supporting attacks on U.S. troops fighting a related insurgency in Afghanistan. It also houses al Qaeda leaders and operatives from around the world plotting attacks on the West.

The U.S. is squeezing the insurgents with missiles fired from unmanned drones, and the frequency of such attacks has surged under the Obama administration. In the most recent strike, seven people were killed Monday in a different part of the tribal area from where the suicide bombing took place, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

The Pakistani army has supported the creation of tribal militias against the militants, but the groups have been ruthlessly attacked. On three separate occasions this year suicide bombers killed at least 65 people attending meetings between officials and tribesmen, who are typically paid for attending.

Security is tight at the gatherings, with attendants frisked well away from the fortified government buildings where they take place. But local police and soldiers are poorly equipped and trained, while suicide bombers — especially when they work in pairs or more — are hard to defend against.

The attackers Monday were wearing the uniforms of local tribal police, allowing one of them to get inside the government compound and blow himself up, said regional political officer Amjad Ali Khan. Seconds later, another militant detonated his explosives at the gate, said Mr. Khan, who was attending the meeting.

The dead and wounded included tribal elders, police, political officials and civilians. Two television journalists who were at the compound reporting also were killed, said Shakirullah Jan, president of Mohmand’s journalist association.

The blast destroyed one building, and the shrapnel left dozens of holes in the walls. Amjad Ali Khan said the explosives were wrapped with bullets rather than the usual ball bearings, nails or nuts and bolts. He said this may have made the blasts especially deadly.

Militants have killed at least 1,300 people in attacks across Pakistan this year, most of them civilians. But there have been fewer attacks than last year, perhaps because of the army operations, including one in Mohmand, and the expanded U.S. drone strikes.

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