Sunday 25 March 2018

Blast near school kills US soldiers and children

Jeremy Page in Islamabad

A BOMB blast near a girls' school in north-western Pakistan yesterday killed three US soldiers who were apparently involved in a low-profile US-British programme to train the country's paramilitary Frontier Corps.

Two US military personnel were wounded in the roadside bomb attack on a convoy in Lower Dir, which also killed a Pakistani paramilitary and at least three children, according to Major-General Athar Abbas, the Pakistani army spokesman.

The Americans are believed to be the first US military personnel killed by the Taliban or its allies in northwestern Pakistan, where US operations mostly use unmanned drones and undercover agents.

They were the first US military casualties in Pakistan since two died in the bomb attack on the Marriott hotel in Islamabad in 2008.

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the main Pakistani Taliban faction, claimed responsibility for yesterday's attack, alleging that the Americans were employed by the security company Blackwater Worldwide.

Two Pakistani journalists, who were in the five-car convoy, said that the Americans were introduced to them as journalists and were not in uniform. The US Embassy said that they were military trainers who had been attending an inauguration ceremony at a school that had been renovated with US help.

"The US condemns this vicious terrorist bombing," it added. "The US and Pakistan are partners in fighting terrorism -- and our people are working together to build schools."

The US began training the Frontier Corps, which has 60,000 members, in 2008 as part of a programme with Britain to improve border security and reduce dependence on Pakistan's army.

The US has never officially announced the "train the trainers" programme or revealed the number of personnel involved, but there are thought to be 20-30 at a training camp in northwestern Pakistan. Britain is also building a training camp for the Frontier Corps in Baluchistan in the south-west and plans to send 24 trainers there, along with six Americans, for three years from August.

Local officials said that at least 65 people were injured in the attack, most of them schoolgirls aged between 10 and 15. Yousuf Raza Gilani, the Pakistani prime minister, ordered an investigation.

The school had been blown up in January 2009, but was rebuilt with the help of the agency USAid after a Pakistani army campaign to drive the Taliban out of the Swat Valley and neighbouring regions of Buner and Lower Dir.

Western aid groups, including the British Department for International Development, have been trying to promote education for girls in the northwest region. However, the Taliban has destroyed hundreds of schools.

The bomb, which was triggered by remote control, came after a surge in the frequency of CIA drone strikes on the tribal areas, especially North Waziristan.

Officials are still checking reports that Hakimullah Mehsud, the Taliban leader in Pakistan, died of injuries from one of the attacks last month.(© The Times, London)

Irish Independent

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