Jets target N. Waziristan, up to 6 die

Pakistani fighter jets targeted suspected Taliban hide-outs in a tribal region near Afghanistan on Sunday, killing as many as six people and raising the odds of a future military offensive there, intelligence officials said, Associated Press reported.

Elsewhere in the northwest, two bomb explosions killed two people and wounded 15 more in Upper Dir district, police said. The district sits at the edge of Swat Valley where Pakistan army says it is wrapping up a two-month-old offensive against Taliban militants.

Pakistan's military has been targeting the Taliban in several northwestern areas since May, when it launched the Swat offensive to oust the militants, who sought to impose their harsh interpretation of Islam over large areas and are accused of plotting attacks on American troops across the border in Afghanistan.

Sunday's airstrikes in North Waziristan hit several homes near the Afghan border, two intelligence officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media. The officials said six people died and several were wounded. They did not say if the dead were militants.

Two local residents, however, said that two people were killed and seven injured, and that all the victims were tribesmen. The witnesses, Shanawat Khan and Akhtarullah, told The Associated Press via phone that three local tribesmen's homes were hit in the Degan village area, roughly 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Afghanistan.

Pakistan's armed forces are laying the groundwork for a full-scale offensive against Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan, but in recent days, clashes with insurgents and statements by militant leaders in neighboring North Waziristan have raised the possibility of army action there as well.

Pakistan's army operations have been strongly supported by U.S. officials eager to see an end to hide-outs for the militants implicated in attacks on American forces across the border in Afghanistan.

Over the past week, North Waziristan militant commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur said he was pulling out of a peace deal with the government, and his fighters took responsibility for a deadly ambush of troops in the region.

The army has warned that it will retaliate against tribes in the area who shelter Taliban militants, though it has stopped short of saying it will pursue an offensive. Sunday's bombing may have been part of the retaliatory efforts.

Pakistan is trying to isolate Mehsud, who is blamed for a string of suicide attacks across the country.

Last week, in what appeared to be a boon for the army, militant leader Maulvi Nazir of South Waziristan declared a cease-fire against security forces in a deal whose terms were kept private.

But overnight Sunday, an army camp in Angoor Ada, a part of the region purportedly under Nazir's control, came under attack, prompting retaliatory fire from security forces, two other intelligence officials said. No casualties were immediately known.

Also, suspected militants attacked the Chakmalai army camp in South Waziristan with rockets and gunfire, wounding six soldiers.

Security forces repulsed the assault with mortars and heavy artillery, said the two officials, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.

Media access to North and South Waziristan is severely restricted, and the regions are dangerous, making it nearly impossible to independently verify the accounts offered by officials.

In a recent interview, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas described Mehsud as the main "center of gravity" for militants along the frontier. He said eliminating Mehsud and clearing South Waziristan was a higher priority than going after lesser militant leaders elsewhere.

Abbas could not immediately be reached for comment Sunday.

The army remains engaged in an offensive against Taliban fighters in the Swat Valley, another region in the northwest. In a statement Sunday, it said three soldiers were killed in the previous 24 hours in an exchange of fire in that area.

Government officials say the militants have carried out a string of bombings in Pakistani cities in retaliation to the army offensive, killing more than 100 people since May last week.

The latest bombing Sunday in Upper Dir is one of such attacks, said police official Rahim Gul. "These miscreants are killing innocent people after being defeated in Swat."

The official said a remote-controlled bomb exploded near a van in Hayati village in Upper Dir district, killing one passenger and wounding 10 more. By the time people had gathered at the scene, Gul said, another bomb went off, which killed a child and wounded five more people.

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