WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates has signed deployment orders that will send U.S. military trainers to Pakistan this summer, CNN has learned.
Pakistan's Frontier Corps work at an observation post in the troubled Swat Valley of northwestern Pakistan.
Their mission: To teach Pakistan Frontier Corps units counterinsurgency skills critical to fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda.
Several Pentagon and military officials confirmed the order has been signed although it has not been publicly announced.
The deployment will be small -- just about two dozen troops who will stay through the spring of next year, according to the officials.
All of this is the first step in a long-term U.S.-Pakistani military program on counterinsurgency cooperation.
The U.S. trainers will begin by training key Frontier Corps units to become trainers themselves so the program can quickly expand. The Frontier Corps is drawn from tribes in the border area and is considered vital in the fight against militants.
Getting the agreement to send U.S. trainers to the Frontier Corps has been a crucial part of the long-term U.S. military and security strategy.
The trainers will work with the Pakistanis to improve their skills and try to encourage them to fight insurgents in the remote tribal region along the Pakistani-Afghan border, long said to be a safe haven for militants, according to the U.S. intelligence community.
In recent months, several senior U.S. military officials have visited Pakistan to meet with Pakistani Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani to get the trainer agreement. Military discussions had quietly continued through recent violence and unrest, officials said.
U.S. and Pakistani Army forces this month also have begun a major air assault training exercise, designed to improve the Pakistani Army's ability to conduct helicopter-borne operations such as moving troops in and out of the border region.
Almost 100 U.S. troops are there, training several hundred Pakistani forces.
Washington has sent billions of dollars to President Pervez Musharraf in recent years to battle extremists. The country is set to receive $300 million this year from the Bush administration for the cause. E-mail to a friend
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