U.S. deaths in Pakistan fuel suspicion

Time magazine reports:

By killing three U.S. soldiers in a bomb attack in a remote corner of northwest Pakistan on Wednesday, Feb. 3, the Taliban scored a political jackpot. With anti-American sentiment cresting in Pakistani public opinion, the presence of the three American trainers in a convoy passing through Koto village when it was struck by a roadside bomb has set off a flurry of questions and even wild conspiracy theories about the U.S. presence in the country. The news left Islamabad in a difficult position, deepened suspicion of the U.S. and further strained an already troubled relationship.

The trainers’ presence had been Pakistan’s worst-kept secret. They’re here at the invitation of the paramilitary Frontier Corps, the front-line force in the battle against the Pakistan Taliban, to help improve its poor counterinsurgency capability. In 2008, Washington dispatched 100 military personnel to train Pakistani officers, who would in turn pass on their skills to rank-and-file soldiers; but local sensitivities precluded the Americans from being given direct access to the troops. As U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke told reporters in Washington, “There is nothing secret about their presence there.”

Noah Shachtman adds:

The U.S. military has 200 troops on the ground in Pakistan. That’s about the double the previously-disclosed number of forces there. It’s a whole lot more than the “no American troops in Pakistan” promised by special envoy Richard Holbrooke. And let’s not even get into the number of U.S. intelligence operatives and security contractors on Pakistani soil.

The troop levels are one of a number of details that have emerged about the once-secret U.S. war in Pakistan since three American troops were killed yesterday by an improvised bomb. The New York Times reports that the soldiers were disguised in Pakistani clothing, and their vehicle was outfitted with radio-frequency jammers, meant to stop remotely-detonated bombs. “Still, the Taliban bomber was able to penetrate their cordon. In all 131 people were wounded, most of them girls who were students at a high school adjacent to the site of the suicide attack,” the paper reports.

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