Pakistani officials survey the site of the bombing in Lower Dir next to a… (Naveed Ali / Associated…)
Reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan — Three American soldiers involved in training members of Pakistan's paramilitary Frontier Corps were among seven people killed Wednesday by a bomb attack outside a girls' school in the country's northwest, a setback for a program regarded as vital to the battle against Al Qaeda and Taliban militants.
The soldiers were in a convoy heading toward an inauguration ceremony at a different girls' school, which had been destroyed by the Taliban but recently rebuilt with financial support from U.S. humanitarian sources. Police said they believed that the bomb was detonated by remote control.
Pakistani security officials said three girls inside the school and one Frontier Corps member in the convoy also were killed in the blast, which injured more than 130 people. They said the attack was carried out with a roadside device. Police said it involved a suicide car bomb.
The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad said in a statement that two other U.S. troops were wounded in the attack. An embassy spokesman would not identify the dead and injured, and declined to release any additional information.
The attack occurred in the Lower Dir region, a forested, mountainous area that saw fierce fighting between Pakistani troops and Taliban militants during last summer's government offensive to quell the insurgency in the Swat Valley and surrounding districts.
Lower Dir and the Swat Valley were retaken by Pakistani troops, but pockets of militants remain holed up on the region's remote hillsides and ridges.
An attack on U.S. military personnel in Pakistan is an extremely rare event, though it was not immediately known whether the soldiers who died were the first American troops killed in the country. U.S. troops do not exercise any combat function and are used for training and advising Pakistani security personnel in counterinsurgency tactics.
Washington has emphasized the need to provide counterinsurgency training to the Frontier Corps, an under-equipped and undertrained fighting force seen as an invaluable anti-terrorism contingent because many of its recruits come from the tribal areas militants use as sanctuary. Last year, the Pentagon proposed spending $3 billion to equip and train Pakistani security forces over a five-year period, a portion of which was supposed to be earmarked for the Frontier Corps.
The U.S. training program started modestly in 2008, with Pakistan permitting only about 30 U.S. trainers. But Defense officials said Wednesday that the training program has grown steadily and now includes about 100 U.S. service members, although the total varies from month to month. Overall, about 200 U.S. military personnel are in Pakistan.
One official said the trainers do not take part in combat missions, but do accompany Pakistani forces on other military missions.
Washington has been careful to ensure that its military personnel in Pakistan maintain a low profile, given the strong suspicions harbored by many Pakistanis about U.S. policies toward their country. Deep anti-American sentiment is fueled by worries that Washington ultimately wants to exert control over Pakistan.
Most of the injured in Wednesday's blast were girls inside a school in the village of Haji Abad that the convoy was passing when the bomb exploded, trapping pupils underneath rubble and debris, said Mumtaz Zareen, Lower Dir's police chief.
"We were all busy with classwork when a part of the roof collapsed," said Rema Bibi, a sixth-grade student.
Special correspondents Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar, Pakistan, and Nasir Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.