- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 4, 2010

SHAHI KOTO, Pakistan | A roadside bomb killed three U.S. soldiers and partly destroyed a girls’ school in northwest Pakistan on Wednesday in an attack that drew attention to a little-publicized American military training mission in the al Qaeda and Taliban heartland.

They were the first known U.S. military fatalities in Pakistan’s lawless tribal regions near the Afghan border and a major victory for militants who have been hit hard by a surge of U.S. missile strikes and a major Pakistani army offensive.

The blast also killed three schoolgirls and a Pakistani soldier who was traveling with the Americans. Two more U.S. soldiers were wounded, along with more than 100 other people, mostly students at the school, officials said.

The attack took place in Lower Dir, which like much of the northwest is home to pockets of militants. The Pakistani army launched a major operation in Lower Dir and the nearby Swat Valley last year that succeeded in pushing the insurgents out, but isolated attacks have continued.

The Americans were traveling with Pakistani security officers in a five-car convoy that was hit by a bomb close to the Koto Girls High School.

“It was a very huge explosion that shattered my windows, filled my house with smoke and dust and also some human flesh fell in my yard,” said Akber Khan, who lives some 50 yards from the blast site.

The explosion flattened much of the school, leaving books, bags and pens strewn in the rubble.

Mohammed Siddiq, a guard at the school, said the death toll would have been much worse if the blast had occurred only minutes later because most of the girls were still playing in the yard and had not yet returned to classrooms, some of which collapsed.

The soldiers were part of a small contingent of U.S. troops training members of the paramilitary Frontier Corps, Pakistan’s army and the U.S. Embassy said. The mission is trying to strengthen the ill-equipped and poorly trained outfit’s ability to fight militants.

The soldiers were driving to attend the inauguration of a different girls’ school, which had been renovated with U.S. humanitarian assistance, the embassy said.

U.S. special envoy to Pakistan Richard C. Holbrooke said it did not appear that the attack directly targeted the Americans.

But the blast, which police said was detonated by remote control, hit the vehicle in which the Americans were traveling along with members of the Frontier Corps, according to Amjad Ali Shah, a local journalist traveling with the convoy to cover the school opening.

Mr. Holbrooke also said the U.S. has not tried to hide its training mission with the Pakistani military.

“There is nothing secret about their presence there,” he told reporters in Washington.

Still, the attack will highlight the existence of U.S. troops in Pakistan at a time when anti-American sentiment is running high. U.S. and Pakistani authorities rarely talk about the American training program in the northwest out of fear it could generate a backlash.

Despite the presence of tens of thousands of U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan, Pakistan does not permit American troops to conduct military operations on its soil.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide