Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
America loses soldiers in Pakistan; faces questions
With three U.S. soldiers killed in a roadside bombing in Pakistan’s troubled northwest on Wednesday, the war has just gotten hot. The bombing in which five Pakistanis also died took place in Lower Dir, an area near the Swat valley that the Pakistani military said had been cleared of the Taliban. More embarrassing, the attack raises uncomfortable questions about just what American soldiers are doing inside Pakistan. The three were part of a unit that trains Pakistani Frontier Corps responsible for security in areas near the Afghan border and may well be the first American fatalities in the effort to train Pakistani forces to fight al Qaeda and the Taliban.
No American soldiers are formally stationed in Pakistan, unlike Afghanistan or Iraq. The deaths of the three soldiers may therefore reignite debate over the role of the U.S. military in Pakistan, which has long chafed at U.S. military actions that violate its sovereignty, such as missile strikes by unmanned “drone” aircraft.
The soldiers were on their way to attend the opening ceremony of a new girls school that had recently been renovated with U.S. humanitarian assistance when the bomb exploded, leaving a crater a few feet away from the school. As the Wall Street Journal reports, in the hours after the attack, there were conflicting reports on whether the dead Americans were soldiers or working for the U.S. Agency for International Development, the aid arm of the U.S. government.
“The official hesitancy to immediately acknowledge the deaths of the U.S. soldiers appeared to reflect Pakistani sensitivities about the presence of foreign, especially American troops, on their soil,” the newspaper noted.
The Pentagon has acknowledged in the past that American military advisers and technical specialists are involved in training Pakistani Army and paramilitary troops but stipulated that these advisers were not involved in combat. Some of the advisers were involved in sharing intelligence with the Pakistani army.
But the soldiers who died on Wednesday did not appear to be on a pure military mission “That American soldiers were involved in development assistance had not been previously known,” The New York Times noted, in what can only stir more anxiety in Pakistan.