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Feb 4th, 2010

Pakistan Blast Draws Attention to U.S. Mission

3 Special forces soldiers, school girls die in attack; Taliban claims bombing

Image: A resident attempts to rescue female students from the rubble of a bombed school
A resident attempts to rescue female students from the rubble following a bomb attack near a school in Pakistan’s Lower Dir district on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2010. (Photo credit: Ali Shah / Reuters)

Feb. 3, 2010

SHAHI KOTO, Pakistan — The deaths of three American special operations soldiers in a roadside bombing in northwest Pakistan on Wednesday drew unwanted attention to a U.S. program of training local forces to fight the Taliban and al-Qaida — a little-publicized mission because of opposition here to American boots on Pakistani soil.

The killings were the first known U.S. military fatalities in nearly three years in Pakistan’s Afghan border region, where militants are being pummeled by U.S. missile strikes and struggling to regroup following the loss of a key stronghold in a recent Pakistani army offensive.

The blast also killed three girls at a nearby school and a Pakistani paramilitary soldier traveling with the Americans. Two more U.S. soldiers were wounded, along with about 100 other people, mostly students at the school. Several were left trapped, bloodied and screaming in the rubble.

The U.S. special envoy to Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, said it did not appear the Americans were directly targeted by the blast, which he said was caused by a roadside bomb. Local officials said the device was detonated by remote control, but at least one police officer said it was a suicide attack.

Brunt of blast

Witnesses said the vehicle carrying the Americans took most of the explosion as their five-car convoy traveled along the road in Lower Dir, indicating it may in fact have been directed at the Americans. That would raise the specter of a militant informant close to the training mission.

Lower Dir is a base for militants belonging to the Pakistani Taliban. The Pakistani army claimed to have retaken the area from the militants last June in a widely praised offensive that also cleared the insurgents from the nearby Swat Valley.

The soldiers were part of a small group of American soldiers 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.

Unlike Afghanistan and Iraq, Pakistan does not allow U.S. combat troops on its territory, making training local security forces an important part of ensuring that militants are not able to use the area as a sanctuary from which to attack American and NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan.

While not a secret, neither the Pakistanis or the Americans have talked much about the program because of the political sensitivity in Pakistan of accepting American assistance. While the government in Islamabad is closely allied with Washington, America is deeply unpopular among many Pakistanis, even those who recognize that fighting militants is in their country’s interest. …

An opinion poll by the International Republican Institute conducted last July and August found that 80 percent of Pakistanis believed the country should not cooperate with America in the war on terror. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.41 percentage points. …

Special forces mission

The Corps training program was never officially announced, but Pakistan and U.S. officials have said it began in 2008 and that U.S. special forces were carrying it out. Officials then said it involved just 32 Americans. There have been no announcements saying it has grown in size. …

Image: Map showing location of bombing in Pakistan

Two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the incident was still under review, said at least one of the three American soldiers was a member of a unit designed to help local authorities publicize positive news — in this case, apparently, the opening of a girls school, which the embassy said had been renovated with U.S. humanitarian assistance. …

In Swat last year, a member of the Frontier Corps taking part in the anti-militant offensive told an Associated Press reporter that he had been trained by the Americans, but that he — like all those who take part in the course — was sworn to secrecy about it. …

Two local journalists in the convoy were under the impression that the soldiers, who were in civilian clothes, were American journalists because of comments from a Pakistani soldier suggesting that was the case. That could explain why initial reports of the incident on Pakistani television said the dead were foreign journalists.

The last known death of a U.S. soldier in the Pakistani border region took place on May 14, 2007, when Army Maj. Larry J. Bauguess Jr., 36, of Moravian Falls, N.C. [assigned to 4th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.], was killed by small-arms fire in the frontier town of Teri Mengel.

Militants apparently killed Bauguess and a Pakistani soldier after a meeting intended to calm tensions between Afghan and Pakistani soldiers following a round of border fighting.


U.S. soldiers killed in Pakistan blast (NBC Nightly News, Feb. 3, 2010) — Three U.S. military advisers were killed on their way to the inauguration of a girls’ school in an attack in Pakistan Wednesday. (00:20)


Related report

Soldier deaths draw focus to U.S. in Pakistan (Jane Perlez, New York Times, Feb. 4, 2010) — The presence of U.S. soldiers, mainly for intelligence and training, has been handled with discretion.


2/5/10 Update

U.S. Military Deaths in Pakistan

Army Sgt. 1st Class David J. Hartman, 27, Okinawa, Japan, died Feb. 3, 2010 in Timagara, Pakistan, from wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne), 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Airborne), Fort Bragg, N.C.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew S. Sluss-Tiller, 35, Callettsburg, Ky., died Feb. 3, 2010 in Timagara, Pakistan, from wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne), 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Airborne), Fort Bragg, N.C.

Army Staff Sgt. Mark A. Stets, 39, El Cajon, Calif., died Feb. 3, 2010 in Timagara, Pakistan, from wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 8th Psychological Operations Battalion (Airborne), 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne), Fort Bragg, N.C.

Remember Their Sacrifice


War on Terror Update


Top officials ‘certain’ of terror attack (NBC Today, Feb. 3, 2010) — Director of National Intelligence Robert Blair, FBI Director Robert Mueller and CIA Director Leon Panetta tell a Senate panel they are certain terrorists will attempt an attack on U.S. soil in the next three to six months. NBC’s Pete Williams reports. (04:37)


Related reports on this site

Al-Qaida Aims to Hit U.S. with WMD (Jan. 26, 2010)

Al-Qaida’s Next High-Value Target (Jan. 18, 2010)

The White House roof

Where is Osama Bin Laden? (Dec. 10, 2009)

Osama bin Laden Personality Profile (Dec. 6, 2009)

Bin Laden Attacks Obama (Sept. 14, 2009)

Bin Laden Rails Against Obama (June 4, 2009)

Al-Qaida Lashes Out At Obama (June 3, 2009)


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — February 4, 2009

Image: Aftermath of U.S. strike in Ghazni, Afghanistan
Afghan demonstrators gather after a U.S. operation in their village in Qarabagh district of Ghazni, west of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Feb. 2, 2009. (Photo credit: Rahmatullah Naikzad / AP)

Change Course in Afghanistan

One-year retrospective: One year ago today, I reported that a classified Pentagon report urged President Barack Obama to shift U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan, de-emphasizing democracy-building and concentrating more on targeting Taliban and al-Qaida sanctuaries inside Pakistan with the aid of Pakistani military forces.

3 Responses to “U.S. Special Forces Killed in Pak”
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