TIMERGARA, Feb 3: Three American soldiers were among eight people killed in a suicide attack in Lower Dir district on Wednesday.
It is the first time US soldiers have been killed in the tribal region, near the Afghan border, in an attack that drew attention towards a little-known programme involving the US army training Frontier Corps personnel. A soldier from Lawrence County, Kentucky was among the six people killed. Matthew Sluss-Tiller, 35, was killed when a bomb went off near a school, injuring many of the students there.
A senior security official said the bomber slammed his explosives-laden vehicle into a convoy of the Frontier Corps. They were going to inaugurate a school in Kad. The school was blown up by the Taliban, but rebuilt with the help of the United States Assistance for International Development (USAID), the official said.
(The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and alleged that the dead Americans belonged to US security company Blackwater Worldwide, now known as Xe. )
“We claim responsibility for the blast,” Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan spokesman Azam Tariq said in a call from an unspecified place.
“The Americans killed were members of the Blackwater group. We know they are responsible for bomb blasts in Peshawar and other Pakistani cities,” he said).
Among those killed were three US soldiers, four schoolgirls and a paramilitary soldier. The US soldiers were identified as Sergeants John, Sikle and Andrew. A US army major, identified as Major Roth, was critically injured.
Two US army trainers and two journalists accompanying the convoy were among the 131 wounded, most of them schoolchildren. Operations Commander of the area, Col Nadeem Mirza, was also reported to have suffered injuries.
The bodies of the US soldiers and the wounded paramilitary personnel were later evacuated to Peshawar by helicopters.
Initial reports suggested that the convoy was hit by a roadside bomb near the village of Koto in Hajiabad, but police and security officials later said the vehicle laden with 140kg of explosives had done the job.
Initially, the officials also insisted that the foreigners killed in the attack were workers of the USAID. But later the US embassy in Islamabad confirmed that the slain Americans were soldiers.
Condemning the ‘vicious terrorist bombing’, an embassy statement said the Americans were US military personnel who were in Pakistan to conduct training at the invitation of the Frontier Corps.
“They were in Lower Dir to attend the inauguration ceremony of a school for girls that had recently been renovated with US humanitarian assistance,” it added.
“Our teacher was teaching us Islamic education when the explosion caused the roof of our class to cave in,” Samina, a 5th grade student of the school, said.
An official said the American soldiers were training Dir Scouts of the Frontier Corps in Dir. “They usually wore Pakistani dress -- shalwar qameez -- and Chitrali caps to conceal their identity,” he said. The Americans were travelling in an armoured vehicle with electronic jammers. “A remote-controlled explosives device would not have done the damage. This was clearly a targeted attack. The bomber targeted their vehicle,” the official said.
“It was a huge blast,” Haroon Rashid, a local journalist travelling with the convoy and wounded in the explosion, told Dawn.
“The army has cordoned off the area and no one is being allowed to move. I am here with wounds on my leg and arms and waiting to be evacuated,” he said on phone from the scene.
Dr Wakil Mohammad, the administrative head of the District Headquarters Hospital in Lower Dir, said that 122 schoolchildren were brought to the hospital.
The explosion also damaged an adjoining girls’ middle school. Security forces cordoned off the area and launched a search operation. The official said that 22 people had been rounded up for questioning.