Pakistan Temporarily Bans Tankers, Container Trucks From Entering Afghanistan
Monday, November 17, 2008
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Nov. 16 -- Pakistan temporarily barred oil tankers and container trucks from a key passageway to Afghanistan, threatening a critical supply route for U.S. and NATO troops Sunday and raising more fears about security in the insurgent-plagued border region.
The suspension came as U.S.-led coalition troops reported killing 30 insurgents in fighting in Afghanistan's Helmand province, near Pakistan's lawless border. There were no coalition or Afghan casualties, officials said.
Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters are behind much of the escalating violence along the lengthy, porous Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and both nations have traded accusations that the other was not doing enough to keep out insurgents.
The tensions come as violence in Afghanistan has reached its highest level since the U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime in 2001, and as a surge in U.S. missile strikes on the Pakistani side of the border has prompted protests from Pakistan government leaders.
Last Monday, a band of fighters hijacked about a dozen trucks, including some carrying Humvees, headed to foreign forces in Afghanistan. Renewed security concerns prompted officials to impose the temporary ban on tankers and trucks carrying sealed containers late Saturday, government official Bakhtiar Khan said. He said the ban could be lifted as early as Monday.
Lt. Cmdr. Walter Matthews, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, acknowledged only that "the appropriate authorities are coordinating security procedures."
"The convoys will continue flowing. We will not discuss when or where or what," he said.
Denied entry to the route, dozens of the trucks and oil tankers were parked along a main road near Peshawar, the regional capital.
Last week's ambush took place at the entrance to the pass. Police said around 60 masked insurgents forced the convoy to stop, briefly trading fire with nearby security officers. U.S. officials say the attackers seized two Humvees and a water truck. Several trucks carrying wheat for the World Food Program were also hijacked.
In Afghanistan, meanwhile, President Hamid Karzai offered to provide security for the Taliban's reclusive leader, Mohammad Omar, if he agrees to enter peace talks.
"If I say I want protection for Mullah Omar, the international community has two choices: remove me or leave if they disagree," Karzai said.
Omar headed the government toppled by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. Since then, he has been in hiding, but is thought to be running the insurgency.
Karzai has long supported drawing the Islamist militia into the political mainstream on the condition that they accept the country's constitution. Omar has not directly responded to these calls.