Bloody visit for Petraeus

2008-11-02 18:26

Dera Ismail Khan - A suicide bomber detonated his vehicle at a checkpoint in northwest Pakistan on Sunday, killing eight troops just hours before the new head of US Central Command arrived to visit this critical ally in the war on terror.

General David Petraeus, who took the new position on Friday after 20 months as the top US commander in Baghdad, was accompanied by US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, the US embassy confirmed late on Sunday.

Acting embassy spokesperson Wes Robertson declined to provide specifics of the Americans' schedule but said they would meet with government and military officials.

Petraeus' trip to Pakistan, coming so soon after he took a position that gives him responsibility for America's two wars, signals how important the US considers the country to success in the anti-terror fight. The US has pressured Pakistan to crack down on militants that use its soil as a base from which to plan attacks in Afghanistan.

But the visit also comes amid tension over alleged US missile strikes on militant targets in Pakistan, one of which occurred last week in the same region the bomber struck on Sunday.

The attacker rammed his vehicle at a checkpoint near the main gate of the Zalai Fort as Frontier Corps paramilitary troops gathered nearby, said Major General Athar Abbas, the Pakistan army's top spokesperson. Eight people died and four were wounded, he said.

Strikes strained Pakistan's alliance with US

The fort is 20km outside Wana, the main town in South Waziristan, a tribal region considered a hub for al-Qaida and Taliban fighters involved in attacks on US and Nato troops in Afghanistan.

South Waziristan was the site of one of two suspected US missile attacks on Friday that killed 29 people, including several suspected foreign militants, intelligence officials said.

It was not immediately clear if Sunday's suicide attack was linked to the missile strikes.

But the strikes have strained Pakistan's alliance with the US and spurred militant calls for revenge. Pakistani troops have been frequent targets of escalating attacks by militants who want the country to end its support of the US.

The Pakistani troops were washing their vehicles Sunday when the suicide attacker came, two intelligence officials said. They described the explosion as "large" and said it destroyed the checkpoint and damaged the front wall of the fort.

Associated Press writer Zarar Khan and Nahal Toosi in Islamabad contributed to this report.

- AP

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