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In Pakistan today, a suicide bomber killed at least 35 people near the country's military headquarters in Rawalpindi. Soldiers were among those who were killed and injured. Authorities say the attack is another retaliation for the army's fight against the Taliban. And it came on a day when the Pakistani military announced some progress, as NPR's Julie McCarthy reports from Islamabad.
JULIE MCCARTHY: There have been at least 10 major attacks in Pakistani cities in the last month that have left more than 330 people dead. The violence that has closed schools and terrorized the public has intensified as the Pakistani army advances deeper into South Waziristan. The army says phase one of the offensive, now in its third week, is complete. Briefing reporters, army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas says phase two begins with the advantage of some tactical successes against the militants.
Major General ATHAR ABBAS (Pakistani Army): (Foreign Language Spoken)
MCCARTHY: Their defense system in the whole area has been broken, Abbas said, adding, because of that, the militants are losing heart and suffering intense losses. But the militant death toll is a fraction of the number of extremists the army has estimated are in South Waziristan. Of the 5,000 to 10,000 militants thought to be in the tribal enclave, the military claims to have killed 334. The army acknowledges that no senior Taliban leader has been among those eliminated or captured. The government has announced a bounty of more than $600,000 for each of the top three Pakistani Taliban leaders.
Abbas was asked whether the months of well-publicized preparation for the offensive had allowed the militants time to flee the area. He downplayed that possibility, and said the militants were being trapped deeper inside South Waziristan.
Maj. Gen. ABBAS: I cannot rule out somebody slipping out of the operational area. That is always a possibility. But what we know is that they are withdrawing, they are moving towards the heartland of this territory, inside. There are also reports of going out, but not in a very great number.
MCCARTHY: Abbas said three divisions of some 12,000 soldiers each are bearing down on the Taliban sanctuary from three directions, making escape difficult. He said in the last 24 hours, government troops had cleared the village of Kaniguram, which he called a stronghold of resistance and terrorism. While the army claimed steady progress in its battle to crush the Taliban, militants continued their withering attacks on the Pakistani public. The bombing in Rawalpindi occurred outside the National Bank of Pakistan, where soldiers and civilians lined up to collect their monthly salary and pension payments. Mohammad Usman was inside at the time of the blast, cashing his paycheck.
Mr. MOHAMMAD USMAN: (Foreign Language Spoken)
MCCARTHY: They were signing my check and suddenly, there was this loud explosion, Usman said. We ran out and saw some 15 to 20 people sprawled on the ground, he said. The bank is close to the army headquarters assaulted by militants last month. That attack was a severe blow to the army and a worrying demonstration of the militants' reach. Chemistry teacher Fahim Asad came to see the aftermath of today's bombing. He said he despaired over the government's ability to protect the public.
Mr. FAHIM ASAD (Teacher, Chemistry): Being a Pakistani, I would like to ask why it happened to innocent lives? Those are innocent lives. Those are sacrificed. But who is responsible?
MCCARTHY: Hours after the Rawalpindi attack, a pair of suicide bombers drove to a police checkpoint on the outskirts of Lahore and detonated their explosives, killing themselves and wounding 16 others.
Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Islamabad.
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