- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2008

PESHAWAR, Pakistan | Container trucks and oil tankers bound for U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan were forced off the road Sunday after militants’ attacks prompted Pakistan to block a major supply line, highlighting the vulnerability of the mountain passage.

The suspension in northwest Pakistan was confirmed Sunday and was intended to allow for a review of security in the famed Khyber Pass. The convoys currently have little to no security detail as they travel to Afghanistan with vital food, fuel and other goods.

The ban on container trucks and tankers could be lifted as early as Monday with new procedures in place, said Bakhtiar Khan, a government representative in the area.

Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters are behind much of the escalating violence along the lengthy, porous Afghan-Pakistan border. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan have accused each other of not doing enough to stop militant activity, while U.S. missile strikes in Pakistani territory have ratcheted up tensions further.

Last Monday, dozens of suspected Taliban militants hijacked several trucks near the Khyber Pass whose load included Humvees heading to the U.S.-led coalition. Over the weekend, U.S.-led coalition troops reported killing 38 insurgents in fighting in southern Afghanistan and detaining two militant leaders near Pakistan’s lawless border.

U.S. and NATO officials in Afghanistan have sought to downplay threats posed to the convoys coming through Pakistan, but NATO has said it is close to striking pacts with Central Asian countries that would let it transport “non-lethal” supplies from north of Afghanistan.

In April, NATO concluded a transit agreement with Russia, but it will be of practical use only once the Central Asian nations between Russia and Afghanistan come on board.

“It’s not the first time this has happened,” NATO spokesman James Appathurai said of the holdup on Sunday. “When this has happened in the past, it did not have any impact in the long term.”

A Pakistani official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media said authorities planned to offer paramilitary Frontier Corps escorts to trucks carrying supplies for troops in Afghanistan. He did not say when this would happen.

“The suspension was made to review the security arrangements, and that has already been done,” Mr. Khan said. “Along with increasing the security and establishing more checkpoints, we have issued orders to deal with attackers and snatchers more strictly.”

The suspension left dozens of trucks and oil tankers stranded along a main road near Peshawar, the regional capital.

“This is our job, and we have to do it, but yes, we have a security risk every time we pass through the route,” said Rehmatullah, a driver who gave only one name and said his truck was carrying a military vehicle of some sort.

Most of the supplies headed to foreign troops in Afghanistan arrive in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi in unmarked, sealed shipping containers and are loaded onto trucks for the journey either to the border town of Chaman or on the primary route, through the Khyber Pass.

U.S.-led troops are battling an escalating insurgency in Afghanistan that has pushed violence to its highest levels since the 2001 invasion that ousted the Taliban regime and raised the specter of American failure in a key theater in the war on terror.

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