- Associated Press - Sunday, October 3, 2010

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan soon will reopen a key NATO supply route into Afghanistan that it shut last week after three Pakistani troops were killed in a helicopter strike by the military alliance in a border area, officials said Sunday.

Pakistan closed the Torkham border crossing in the country’s northwest on Thursday in an apparent protest over the helicopter strike, the third such incursion into Pakistan in less than a week.

Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said, however, that the route was closed because of public reaction in the area to the NATO strikes and that it would be reopened once things normalize.

“The supply has been suspended because of security reasons, and it will be resumed as soon as these reasons are addressed,” he told the Associated Press.

Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program Sunday that he did “not expect this blockade to continue for too long.”

Asked whether it could be opened within the next week, he said, “I think it will happen in less than that duration.”

The Torkham border crossing along the fabled Khyber Pass is used to bring fuel, military vehicles, spare parts, clothing and other non-lethal supplies for foreign troops in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s other main route into landlocked Afghanistan, in Chaman in the southwest, has remained open.

While NATO and the United States have alternative supply routes into Afghanistan, the Pakistani ones are the cheapest and most convenient. Some 80 percent of the coalition’s non-lethal supplies are transported over Pakistani soil after being unloaded at docks in Karachi, a port city in the south.

Earlier Sunday, the bullet-riddled bodies of three men were found by a road in the restive northwestern tribal region. The three were killed by suspected Pakistani Taliban militants in apparent retaliation for recent U.S. drone strikes in the area, officials and a villager said.

The corpses were discovered in North Waziristan alongside the Miran Shah-Data Khel road that leads to Afghanistan. A note under a rock next to the bodies said, “Anyone who dares spy for the Americans will meet the same fate,” according to two intelligence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Local government official Asghar Khan confirmed the report but refused to give further details or release the identities or nationalities of the victims.

The slayings came the day after two suspected U.S. missile attacks killed 16 people in the region, part of a recent surge in drone strikes in Pakistan along with stepped-up NATO operations along the frontier. The strikes have been targeting Taliban and al Qaeda militants taking shelter across the porous border in Pakistan out of reach of U.S. ground forces in Afghanistan.

Over the past five weeks, the United States is suspected of having launched at least 23 missile strikes in Pakistani territory, an unprecedented number. Western officials have said some of the CIA-controlled, drone-fired strikes have been aimed at disrupting a terror plot against European cities.

U.S. officials rarely discuss the covert program but have described it in the past as a highly successful tool that has killed some top militant leaders.

While the Pakistani leadership has quietly accepted drone strikes over the past three years and even has provided intelligence for some of them, closing the border crossing was a clear signal it will not compromise on allowing foreign troops or manned aircraft inside its territory.

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