Rare Afghanistan convoy attack in normally safe Pakistan city

A NATO convoy bringing supplies to Afghanistan suffered a rare attack in Karachi on Thursday – the first such ambush in the relatively secure port city. A day earlier NATO said it had secured an alternate supply route through Russia.

Akhtar Soomro/Reuters
A policeman inspects a bullet riddled truck, which was carrying supplies for NATO troops in Afghanistan, after it was attacked while leaving Karachi for Kandahar on Thursday.

A NATO convoy came under assault Thursday while carrying supplies through Pakistan to Afghanistan in a rare ambush inside Karachi, the relatively secure port city from which 300 to 400 of the coalition’s trucks leave each day.

Any assault on the Pakistani supply route is worrisome to the US-led forces in Afghanistan, who use it to ship three-quarters of their materials and will need it even more as the surge of 30,000 US troops progresses.

But the attack in Karachi – which is the commercial capital of Pakistan, and has largely escaped the bomb attacks troubling other major cities and the northwest – raises particular concern, especially if it marks the beginning of a trend.

“We will have to increase our vigilance to ensure that such attacks do not become commonplace,” said a police investigator at the Special Investigation Unit, which runs counterterrorism operations in the city.

As a sign of NATO’s desire to loosen its dependence on the Pakistan route, which comes under frequent attack, the organization said Wednesday it had secured agreement from Kazakhstan to allow transit of nonlethal supplies into Afghanistan. This paves the way for an alternate supply route that also includes Russia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

Neighborhood is home to militants

In Thursday’s assault, which took place in a western township of Karachi called Baldia, four gunmen on motorcycles opened fire and threw grenades at three trucks, wounding three people.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but some local police officials believe it was the work of the Pakistani Taliban (called Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan), which operates in the country’s northwestern tribal belt.

According to the SIU officer, Baldia township is home to militants affiliated with TTP as well as other banned sectarian outfits.

“[Baldia] is one of the few parts of the city we have not been able to infiltrate and clear of militants,” he says.

Earlier this month, a blast at a house in Baldia left eight people dead, and police later uncovered a cache of suicide vests, guns, and explosives at the property.

Few attacks in Karachi

The last attack on NATO supply trucks in Karachi took place in December 2008, when unknown attackers torched several vehicles parked at the New Truck Stand.

Security for NATO supply trucks had been increased since the 2008 attack, says Noor Khan Niazi, president of the Karachi Goods Carriers Association.

In September 2008 Shaukat Afridi, whose transport company supplied fuel to NATO forces in Afghanistan, was kidnapped for ransom and then killed by militants affiliated with Harkatul Mujahideen, a banned sectarian group.

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