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U.S. Soldiers Killed In Pakistan Blast

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

And we begin this hour in Pakistan, where the U.S. suffered a very public setback in its intentionally low-profile campaign against the Taliban there. Three American military personnel were killed and two wounded as their convoy travel through a district in the northwest part of the country. They were there training a Pakistani force to patrol the border with Afghanistan. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack.

As NPR's Julie McCarthy reports from Islamabad, news of the U.S. soldiers is sure to inflame anti-American passions there.

JULIE MCCARTHY: The American servicemen killed in the volatile district of Lower Dir where special operations forces, say sources of the Defense Department, part of the approximately 200 U.S. military personnel in Pakistan. The U.S. embassy issued a statement saying that the slain Americans were conducting training of Pakistan's Frontier Corp. Farah Naz Asfahani, media adviser to Pakistan's president, was quick to characterize U.S. military trainers as nothing out of the ordinary.

Ms. FARAH NAZ ASFAHANI (Media Adviser to President of Pakistan) I think that there is no secret to the fact that there are some U.S. military personnel here training the Frontier Corp at the invitation of the Frontier Corp. I think that this is known to one and all and it's legal and an open book.

MCCARTHY: But the presence of American military personnel on Pakistani soil is one of the most sensitive issues there is between the two allies. President Asif Ali Zardari must contend with soaring anti-Americanism here and a belief that he is too close to Washington. Those negative attitudes will be reinforced by the killing of Americans on Pakistani territory, according to retired brigadier Javed Hussain. He says the attack that killed Americans, as well as Pakistani citizens, including four schoolgirls, will generate pressure on an already fragile government.

Brigadier JAVED HUSSAIN (Pakistan, Retired): Because they have been denying the presence of either Blackwater or American military personnel on Pakistani soil. Now, people are going to ask them you have been denying the presence of American military personnel, what were these three marines doing? And how many more are there? Where are they? I don't know. And many, many people like me don't know.

MCCARTHY: Defense Department sources say that the number of U.S. trainers in Pakistan has increased over the past year. One of the men killed in today's attack was helping improve radio communications to better win hearts and minds say sources.

Khalid Aziz, the former chief secretary of the North West Frontier Province says the Frontier Corp has clearly benefited from their American training. Four years ago, he says, the Corp on the frontline in the battle with Pakistan's militants was disintegrating.

Mr. KHALID AZIZ (Former Chief Secretary, North West Frontier Province): Now it has become a force to be reckoned with. But this training has helped. I mean, if someone says that nothing has happened, I think that would be absurd. The training has helped.

MCCARTHY: The U.S. embassy said the slain servicemen were attending the inauguration of a girls' school that had been renovated with U.S. humanitarian assistance. That U.S. military personnel were involved in development projects was not previously known. The commandant of Dir Scouts who was injured in the attack told NPR that the Americans were brave, intelligent friends who had helped on numerous small projects. But Khalid Aziz says surveying aid sites exposed them to even greater hazard.

Mr. AZIZ: I think it was fraught with danger and risk. And this, I'm sure, is not the first visit because this game of planting improvised explosive device requires forewarning, requires awareness of the routine. It doesn't happen accidentally. These things are very precisely planned.

MCCARTHY: Today's bombing was a grim reminder of the Taliban's tenacity. The Pakistani military has insisted that an army offensive last spring in Lower Dir flushed out the militants.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.