Video: Secret U.S. advisers working in Pakistan

updated 2/23/2009 11:25:46 AM ET 2009-02-23T16:25:46

A U.S. effort to train Pakistani troops in their fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban is larger than previously acknowledged.

The New York Times reported Monday that a task force of about 70 advisers is helping the Pakistanis with intelligence and advises them on combat tactics. But it isn't taking part in any fighting. The Times report cites U.S. military officials.

Most of the advisers are Army Special Forces soldiers. They include combat medics and communications specialists.

Last year, Pakistani army officers said about 30 American advisers were training troops in northwest Pakistan, near the Afghanistan border.

Arming civilians
Separately, authorities in a border province announced a plan to arm villagers with 30,000 rifles and set up an elite police unit to protect a region increasingly besieged by Taliban and al-Qaida militants.

The stiffer action announced Sunday by the chief minister of North West Frontier Province, Haider Khan Hoti, could help offset American concern that a peace deal being negotiated in the Swat valley could create a haven for Islamist insurgents only 100 miles from the Pakistani capital.

Village militias backed by the United States have been credited with reducing violence in Iraq. Washington is paying for a similar initiative in Afghanistan.

The United States is already spending millions of dollars to train and equip Pakistani forces in the rugged region near the Afghan border but there was no sign it was involved in the militia plan. A U.S. Embassy spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Saturday he will try to "remove the apprehensions of the world community" about the Swat deal when he meets U.S. officials in Washington next week, state-run media reported.

But it was unclear if Sunday's announcement by Hoti had the backing of national leaders or the powerful army — or if handing out more guns in an already heavily armed society was wise.

Civil war?
Mahmood Shah, a former head of security for Pakistan's tribal regions, said arming civilians could trigger civil war in the northwest, where tribal and political tension is at fever pitch.

Shah said authorities should focus on bolstering existing security forces.

"This is Pakistan, not Iraq or Afghanistan. There is complete anarchy in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that is not the case here," he said. "It is not going to help."

Hoti said authorities would distribute the guns only among "peaceful groups and individuals" so they could help police to guard their villages.

Officials would consult with local police chiefs before handing out the arms and would take them back if they were not used against "terrorists and troublemakers," Hoti's office said in a written statement.

Hoti said the guns were on hand, having been seized from "terrorists and anti-state elements." He said the province would meet the $40 million bill for the elite provincial police unit of 2,500 officers.

"The purpose of setting up this force is to combat terrorism and extremism effectively," he said.


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