PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - A suspected suicide car-bomber set off his explosives near a security check-post in the northwestern Pakistani region of Bajaur on Saturday killing 14 people, police said.
Pakistani security forces have in recent days stepped up operations against militants in Bajaur, an ethnic Pashtun militant stronghold on the Afghan border, as part of efforts to defeat Pakistan Taliban militants fighting the state.
“It looks like a suicide attack,” said Fazl-e-Rabi, a police official in the region, adding at least seven of the dead were passersby.
“I suspect the number of dead might go up as many of the wounded are in critical condition,” he told Reuters.
The army mounted a major offensive against al Qaeda-linked militants in Bajaur in 2008 and declared the region largely cleared after months of clashes.
Bajaur is opposite the eastern Afghan province of Kunar and has long been an infiltration route for militants entering Afghanistan to fight U.S.-led forces there.
The United States sees the elimination of militant enclaves in northwest Pakistan, from where the Taliban orchestrate their insurgency in Afghanistan and al Qaeda plots violence further afield, as vital for bringing stability to Afghanistan.
Late on Friday, a U.S. drone aircraft fired a missile into a militant compound in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region, also on the Afghan border, killing nine militants, security officials said.
The United States has stepped up drone strikes on sanctuaries for al Qaeda and Taliban militants on the Pakistani side of the border since a bomb attack on U.S. intelligence agents in eastern Afghanistan’s Khost province on December 30.
The latest drone strike, the 12th this month according to a Reuters tally, happened 20 km (12 miles) west of Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan.
A security official in the region, who declined to be identified, said two of the dead were foreigners but he had no information about their nationality or identity.
The drone strikes are a source of friction with Pakistan even though some leaders of its indigenous Taliban who are battling the state have been killed. Pakistan says the drone aircraft attacks violate its sovereignty and complicates its efforts against militancy by inflaming public anger.
Pakistan wants the United States to supply it with armed drones so it can do the job itself but the United States has only offered surveillance drones.
The latest strike came after an international meeting on Afghanistan in London where the Afghan government invited the Taliban to a peace council.
Pakistan could play an important role in using its links with the Afghan Taliban to bring them into talks.
The United States carried out 51 drone strikes in Pakistan last year compared with 32 in 2008, according to a Reuters tally.
The rate of attacks rose sharply early this month after the December 30 attack in eastern Afghanistan when a Jordanian suicide bomber killed seven CIA employees, the deadliest strike on the agency in decades.
Additional reporting by Alamgir Bitani, Sahibzada Bahauddin and Haji Mujtaba; Writing by Kamran Haider; Editing by Robert Birsel and Sanjeev Miglani