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Terrorism & Security

Pakistani militants cut off key NATO supply line to Afghanistan

The attack highlights the need for alternative routes.

By Liam Stack / February 3, 2009

A truck lay toppled on a bridge blown up by Islamist militants Tuesday in the Pakistani tribal area of Khyber.

Mohammad Sajjad/AP

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Islamist militants in Pakistan blew up a bridge through the mountainous Khyber Pass early on Tuesday, severing a key supply route for US and NATO troops in Afghanistan. Periodic attacks on the route have pushed the international forces to seek alternative ones outside Pakistan.

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All traffic on the bridge has come to a halt, The Press Trust of India reports, including dozens of supply trucks bound for US and NATO forces.

The bridge connects Peshawar, the largest city in the Northwest Frontier Province, with the Khyber Pass, the primary route into Afghanistan.

Militants have harassed NATO supply lines in northwest Pakistan for several months, conducting ambushes on convoys and attacking truck depots in Peshawar itself, according to the news service. It says Tuesday's bridge attack may be a result of increased security at supply depots.

The Associated Press reports that the bridge is about 15 miles northwest of Peshawar.

A NATO spokesman in Afghanistan confirmed that supplies along the route had been halted "for the time being," but stressed the alliance was in no danger of running out of food, equipment or fuel....
It was not immediately clear whether supply convoys could reach Afghanistan through alternative routes in the region, nor how long it would take to rebuild it.

The Khyber Pass is one of two routes into Afghanistan from Pakistan, according to Reuters. The other connects the Pakistani province of Baluchistan with the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

While the military provides few specifics of its supply operation, observers believe most of the supplies travel through the Khyber Pass, says Reuters.

The U.S. military and NATO have not given details of the supplies they get via Pakistan or a breakdown of how much comes on the two routes. The U.S. Defense Department says the U.S. military sends 75 percent of supplies for the Afghan war through or over Pakistan, including 40 percent of fuel.
Pakistani customs officials say under normal circumstances about 300 trucks with Western force supplies travel through the Khyber Pass crossing at Torkham every day, compared with about 100 through the Chaman crossing.

With the US planning to expand its Afghan operations, Tuesday's bridge attack highlights the need for secure supply routes. US planners say they are actively looking for routes that avoid Pakistan's volatile border areas.

There are 36,000 American soldiers currently stationed in Afghanistan, where they are training Afghan security forces and doing battle with a Taliban insurgency against the government of US ally Hamid Karzai.

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