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U.S. Soldiers Killed In Pakistan Blast

Pakistani police officials inspect the site of a bomb blast in the northwestern Lower Dir district on February 3.
(RFE/RL) -- The Pakistani military says three U.S. soldiers traveling with Pakistani security-force members were killed today in a roadside bombing near a school in northwest Pakistan.

It appears to be the first-known U.S. military fatalities in Pakistan's tribal regions near the Afghan border.

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad condemned the "vicious terrorist bombing" in the Lower Dir area of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, which it said also wounded two other U.S. soldiers.

The statement said the soldiers had been due to attend the inauguration of a girls school recently renovated with U.S. humanitarian assistance.

It said the U.S. military personnel were in Pakistan as part of a little-publicized mission to train members of the paramilitary Frontier Corps.

Pakistan's Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing, with spokesman Azam Tariq telling Reuters news agency that the group would "continue such attacks on Americans."

Condemning the attack, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani ordered an investigation into the bombing, while Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that "terrorism will never be allowed to succeed in its nefarious designs."

Police said one Pakistani soldier and at least three children also died in the blast near the girls school.

Dozens of people, most of them students, were reported injured in the explosion, which partly destroyed the school.

Anti-American Sentiment

The blast was a grim reminder of the resilience of Taliban militants determined to battle government forces, including in Lower Dir and neighboring areas, where the military last year launched a major offensive against militants.

Ghulam Ghaus, a correspondent for RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal in the northwestern city of Peshawar, reports that "the military claimed that the area was cleared of militants. And now reconstruction and rehabilitation was under way."

Reports say U.S. troops have been training Pakistan's Frontier Corps since at least 2008. The corps is a major force in the northwest, but they have long been underequipped and undertrained.

The training program was never officially announced, a sign of the sensitivity for Pakistan's government of allowing U.S. troops on its territory. U.S. officials have said that Americans are not carrying out operations.

Ghaus says today's attack is likely to draw attention to the presence of U.S. soldiers on Pakistani soil. "Generally here, there is a sort of anti-American sentiment," he says. "Taliban militants certainly like to make such incidents to gain the sympathy of the people."

Today's casualties were the first U.S. deaths in Pakistan since 2008, when two U.S. military personnel died in a bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. The same year, an American aid worker was killed in Peshawar.

with news agency reports