Suicide attacks kill 1,188 in Pakistan since '07

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Suicide attacks have killed nearly 1,200 people in Pakistan since July 2007, most of them civilians, according to military statistics Monday that underscored the ferocity of the threat facing the U.S. ally in the war on extremist groups.

Meanwhile, heavy fighting between Pakistani troops and insurgents in the lawless tribal regions of the country's northwest has caused some 20,000 Pakistanis to flee across the border into Afghanistan, the United Nations said.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan has seen a surge in attacks by Islamic extremists since the July 2007 army attack on militants holed up in Islamabad's radical Red Mosque, during which about 100 people were killed.

The most recent major suicide attack was the Sept. 20 truck bombing at the Marriott Hotel in the capital, which killed at least 54 people, including three Americans.

Figures released at a military briefing Monday said 88 suicide attacks had taken place across Pakistan since the Red Mosque siege, killing 1,188 people. Of those, 847 were civilians and 341 were troops or police. More than 3,000 people were wounded.

The statistics also said 1,368 security force personnel had been killed since late 2001, when Pakistan's former military ruler, President Pervez Musharraf, allied with Washington in the war against terrorist movements after the Sept. 11 attack on the United States.

Pakistan cites such figures in part to deflect American skepticism of its commitment to the fight against Islamic militants amid lingering suspicion that elements within the country's intelligence agencies maintain links with extremists.

Under U.S. pressure, Pakistan launched a military offensive in the Bajur tribal region in early August against Taliban and al-Qaida militants blamed for rising violence both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. Fierce fighting has raged in the area ever since.

"In the last two weeks alone, over 600 Pakistani families (around 20,000 people) have fled into Afghanistan," the U.N. refugee agency said Monday. "While the vast majority of them are living with their relatives and friends, there are already some 200 families who live in the open air."

The refugees have gone to Afghanistan's Kunar province, which is itself plagued by fighting between Islamic militants and Afghan troops backed by U.S.-led coalition forces.

Pakistani officials estimate the fighting in Bajur has displaced as many as 500,000 people who have sought refuge elsewhere within Pakistan. Most have been taken in by relatives across northwestern Pakistan, though about 100,000 are living in camps.

In the latest fighting in the frontier region, troops repelled an overnight attack on an army camp just north of Khar, Bajur's main town, killing up to 15 militants, two officials said. They provided no word of casualties on the government side.

Poor access and a lack of security in Bajur prevents reporters from verifying casualty reports.

Also near Khar, eight tribesmen and three militants died in a gunbattle, government official Fazal Rabbi said. He provided no more details on the clash, but the army has been reported trying to enlist local support against insurgents.

Bajur is the most northerly of Pakistan's tribal regions, several of which have largely fallen under the control of militants opposed to the Afghan and Pakistani governments.

U.S. and NATO commanders say militant groups use the tribal areas as safe havens for preparing attacks in Afghanistan, which is increasingly violent seven years after a U.S.-led offensive toppled its Taliban regime. The area is believed to be a possible hiding place for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders.

Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, the top U.S. commander in eastern Afghanistan, told The Associated Press last week that he was encouraged by Pakistan's offensive in Bajur, but hadn't yet seen a drop in the number of militants crossing the border.

"We need a persistent series of operations by Pakistan over a lengthier period of time before we see a change there," Schloesser said.

Pakistan's army claims to have killed more than 1,000 militants in the Bajur offensive while losing 69 troops since August. It has declined to estimate casualties among civilians.

Associated Press writers Zarar Khan in Islamabad, Habib Khan in Khar and Fisnik Abrashi in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.