A roadside bomb in northwestern Pakistan has killed three U.S. soldiers and five others traveling to the opening ceremony of a girls' school recently renovated with U.S. assistance.
Pakistani officials say at least three children died in the attack and more than 60 people were wounded. A Pakistani Taliban spokesman later claimed responsibility for the bombing.
The bomb exploded just as the soldiers' convoy passed a school in the Lower Dir district near Swat Valley, a region the Pakistani military says was largely cleared of militants in an offensive a year ago.
A statement from the U.S. embassy in Islamabad says the American military personnel were part of an ongoing training program with paramilitary troops in the northwest. It says the soldiers had traveled to Lower Dir to attend the inauguration ceremony for a girls' school.
Pakistani and U.S. officials have condemned the attack. U.S. Special Representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke told reporters in Washington that U.S. officials do not believe the American military trainers were directly targeted. He rejected Taliban claims that the men were employees of the Blackwater security firm and said he expects officials will release the identities of the dead after their families have been notified.
No American combat troops are officially stationed in Pakistan. U.S. aid initiatives in northwestern Pakistan are aimed in part at strengthening paramilitary forces and improving local civilian governments to better counter the militants' influence in the region.
Small units of American military advisers are helping to train the Frontier Corps paramilitary force, which is playing a leading role in the fight against al-Qaida and Taliban militants in areas bordering Afghanistan. Pakistan has never officially announced the U.S. training mission, which has reportedly been in place since 2008. Ambassador Holbrooke said Wednesday there is nothing secret about the presence of the American military trainers in Pakistan.
On Tuesday, suspected U.S. drones fired missiles at several suspected militant hideouts in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region, killing at least 16 people.
North Waziristan is known as a base for the Taliban-allied Haqqani group, which is blamed for cross-border attacks against U.S., NATO and Afghan troops in Afghanistan.
U.S. officials do not publicly comment on the drone strikes, which have raised tensions between Pakistan and the United States in the past.