Militants step up strikes on Pakistan convoys
20 oil tankers for Afghan war attacked; 3 die
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Militants attacked and set fire to at least 20 tankers carrying oil for NATO and US troops in Afghanistan early today, the third such strike inside Pakistan in as many days, police said.
Police investigator Umer Hayat said three people were killed and blamed the attack on terrorists.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility in a telephone call to an Associated Press reporter. Its spokesman said a new wing of the group had been created to strike convoys and “would continue until the supplies are completely stopped.’’
The attack not far from Islamabad took place on a supply line that has been stalled because of a temporary border closing imposed by the government to protest a NATO helicopter attack that killed three Pakistani troops last week. The closure exacerbated tensions between Washington and Islamabad but has been welcomed by Islamist groups opposed to Pakistan’s support of the US-led war in Afghanistan.
Hayat and other officers said the attackers opened fire on trucks that were parked at a poorly guarded terminal before setting them afire.
The trucks were en route or waiting to travel to the Torkham border crossing along the Khyber Pass, which is used to bring fuel, military vehicles, spare parts, clothing, and other nonlethal supplies for foreign troops in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s other main route into landlocked Afghanistan, in Chaman in the southwest, has remained open.
Although NATO and the United States have alternative supply routes into Afghanistan, the Pakistani ones are the cheapest and most convenient. Most of the coalition’s nonlethal supplies are transported over Pakistani soil after being unloaded at docks in Karachi in the south.
On Friday, a day after the closure of the Khyber Pass route to NATO and US traffic, there were two attacks on oil tankers headed to the country. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for at least one of them, and vowed to launch more. Striking now gains them more media attention than normal and adds to unease between Pakistan and the United States.
The convoys take several days to reach the border after setting off from Karachi and make frequent stops. They receive little or no protection outside the frontier region and are indistinguishable from ordinary trucks and tankers that ply Pakistani roads.
Over the past two years they often have been attacked by militants, mostly in the northwestern border region where militants are strongest.
Attacks on convoys in Pakistan give militants a propaganda victory, but coalition officials say they do not result in shortages in Afghanistan. Hundreds of trucks cross into Afghanistan each day.
Some attacks are believed to be the work of criminals, who can sell much of the vehicles, clothes, and other goods they carry. Officials have accused truck owners of having a role in some of the incidents, perhaps to claim insurance fraudulently.
Earlier yesterday, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, said on CNN’s “State of the Union’’ program that he did “not expect this blockade to continue for too long.’’
Asked whether the route could be opened within the next week, he said “I think it will happen in less than that duration.’’
A Foreign Office spokesman said the route had been closed because of public reaction to the NATO strikes, and that it would be reopened once things normalize. US officials are also predicting it will not stay closed for long.
Analysts have said that the relationship between Pakistan and the United States is too important for both nations for this incident to derail ties.
Also yesterday, the bodies of three men were found along a road in the northwestern tribal region. The men were killed by suspected Pakistani Taliban militants in apparent retaliation for recent US drone strikes in the area, officials and a villager said.
The corpses were discovered in North Waziristan alongside a 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. A 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 US 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.