"The American special forces failed in Afghanistan and Iraq," said Ameerul Azim, an official in the hard-line Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami. "Those who failed everywhere cannot train our people."
Despite such complaints, the training program comes as some tribes in the frontier zone are setting up militias to help the Pakistani government combat extremist movements. The new forces have been compared to the Sunni Arab militias in Iraq that helped beat back the insurgency there.
Still, the U.S. training program is reportedly smaller than originally proposed and was delayed, apparently reflecting misgivings in Pakistan's government about allowing U.S. troops on its territory.
Its start has not been officially announced. But Pakistani army officers confirmed Saturday that 32 Americans were training 116 senior personnel of the paramilitary Frontier Corps at an undisclosed location in the restive northwest, adjacent to Afghanistan.
The officials said the course included classroom and field sessions and that the mission would last around six months.
"We need this training to use modern equipment and weapons," Frontier Corps commander Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan said.
A U.S. defense official said the trainers were U.S. special operations forces and that they arrived in Pakistan last week. The official, who asked for anonymity because some details had not been made public, said the program would likely be a one-time effort and that there were no plans to send more trainers.
Asked about the program on Thursday, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman contrasted it with much larger U.S. training efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, where U.S. soldiers are embedded with local units on the battlefield.
"It is a train-the-trainer type of concept," Whitman said. "They are not actually conducting operations."
The Frontier Corps is a relic of British rule that was long a poorly armed, untrained police force that the government hopes can be remade into a potent unit capable of confronting Taliban militants.
Its troopers are local men, in contrast to the army, which is dominated by ethnic Punjabis and is viewed as an occupying force by the Pashtun tribes living on both sides of the border. U.S. and Pakistani officials argue that the corps' local knowledge and cultural sensitivities make it the best tool in a battle where winning hearts and minds is crucial.
The goal is that a strong Frontier Corps can take on most combat duties, allowing a gradual pullback of the army that is hoped will ease tensions in the northwest.
The U.S. has poured some $10 billion into Pakistan since the then-president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, turned against his former Taliban allies in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Most of the money has gone to the army, including the $70 million earmarked for the Frontier Corps program.
U.S. forces already trained Pakistan's Special Services Group, a commando unit that crushed militants holding Islamabad's Red Mosque last year. Washington also has supplied the helicopter gunships that are seeing heavy use in army offensives in several Pakistani border regions.
But with the war dragging in Afghanistan, U.S. lawmakers and commentators have questioned why Pakistan still seems unable to eradicate militant sanctuaries on its side of the border.