Taliban attacks U.S. Consulate in Pakistan
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
ISLAMABAD -- With a complex and deadly assault on the most vivid symbol of U.S. influence in this country's troubled northwest, the Pakistani Taliban served notice Monday that it remains formidable despite a sustained campaign to wipe it out.
The midday attack on the U.S. Consulate in the city of Peshawar failed in its apparent aim to breach the facility's gates, but it succeeded in reminding nervous Pakistanis and apprehensive U.S. officials that the militant threat here has not gone away.
Insurgents used at least two vehicle bombs, assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades to carry out the raid, which killed eight people.
Hours earlier, a suicide attack killed 42 people at a rally for a political party that has aligned itself with the United States in opposing religious extremists. The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad said no American employees were seriously wounded.
Pakistani officials in recent weeks have sought to portray the Pakistani Taliban as having been badly hobbled by army offensives that have eliminated its vast sanctuaries, and by American missile strikes that have killed its leaders. The apparent successes have brought promises of revenge from Taliban commanders, who say they can deploy armies of young men willing to die to attack U.S. interests and the pro-Western government here.
One of the group's spokesmen claimed responsibility for the assault on the consulate Monday and vowed there would be more like it.
A Pakistani intelligence official said the violence "was meant to show that [the Taliban] can come back in a big way." The official, though, added that it is too soon to know whether the attacks marked the start of a resurgence. "One swallow does not make a spring," he said.
The consulate in Peshawar sits in the heart of the manic frontier city, and both the building and its employees have been the target of violence in the past. No U.S. mission in Pakistan has been directly attacked, however, since 2006.
The assault fits a pattern of militant strikes here in which insurgents wearing security services uniforms assault heavily guarded facilities with gunfire and suicide blasts. The strategy enabled Taliban militants to penetrate the military's general headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi last fall and stage a day-long firefight with security forces. Twenty people were killed there.
Monday's assault was put down more quickly, but the attackers apparently were prepared for a long battle. Bashir Ahmad Bilour, a senior government minister in North-West Frontier Province, said they were "well equipped" with explosives.
In a statement from Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the assault "is part of a wave of violence perpetrated by brutal extremists who seek to undermine Pakistan's democracy and sow fear and discord."
"The Pakistani people have suffered grievous losses," she added, "but they are standing firm in the face of this intimidation -- and the United States stands with them."