Pakistan air strike kills 27 militants

PESHAWAR, Pakistan Sun Oct 12, 2008 10:54pm IST

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PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani aircraft launched a strike on Saturday that killed 27 Taliban militants including "would-be suicide bombers" in a northwestern tribal region, a paramilitary spokesman said.

The raid on militant hideouts in Orakzai tribal region came two days after a suicide bomber detonated a car loaded with explosives at a tribal council meeting, killing more than 100 people according to television networks.

The meeting had been attended by around 500 tribesmen, the networks said.

A spokesman for the paramilitary Frontier Corps said 12 among those killed in the air strike on Sunday were would-be suicide bombers.

"The combat aviation strike killed 27 miscreants, including two important militant commanders," he said in a statement.

Government and intelligence officials in the region said at least three militant hideouts were destroyed.

Residents said 15 civilians were also wounded in the strike.

The suicide attack in the tribal council took place when tribesmen were planning to raise a lashkar or tribal militia to evict militants from the region.

Pakistan's tribal lands on the Afghan border are seen as safe havens for al Qaeda and Taliban militants and the government is under tremendous pressure from the United States to take stern action to stop insurgents going to Afghanistan.

Orakzai has been the most peaceful of Pakistan's seven semi-autonomous tribal regions. Unlike most of the others, Orakzai does not border Afghanistan. But militants appeared to have sneaked into the region after government launched a crackdown against them in other tribal areas.

Militants have unleashed a new wave of violence in Pakistan, mainly in the northwest, in recent months in an apparent reaction to military operations against them.

The growing militant threat prompted the government led by President Asif Ali Zardari, widower of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto who herself was killed in a suicide gun and bomb attack in December, to call a closed session of parliament for a briefing by intelligence officials on internal security.

The government is likely to present its strategy to combat militancy for debate in the session on Monday.

The soaring militant violence in Pakistan comes amidst a stepped-up campaign by the United States against militant targets inside Pakistan.

The United States has made at least 10 missile attacks, the latest on Saturday night, and a commando raid on militant targets in Pakistan's tribal areas since the start of September. Five militants, including foreigners, were killed in Saturday's attack in North Waziristan region.

Pakistan has condemned the attack and said such actions would help neither Pakistan nor the United States.

(Additional reporting by Aizaz Mohmand)

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