Eight people have been killed as Pakistani authorities launched an operation against militants in the Khyber Pass area on Tuesday. To carry out the offensive, which is targeting Taliban militants who have been attacking US and NATO supply vehicles in recent months, the government has imposed a curfew along the main route to Afghanistan and suspended all supplies to NATO forces based there.
Pakistani security forces sent tanks, helicopter gunships and artillery units into the lawless Khyber tribal region on the Afghan border before dawn, the area's administrator Tariq Hayat told reporters in Peshawar.
"We have launched an operation against militants and armed groups in Jamrud," the gateway to the Khyber Pass, Hayat said.
The main highway linking Peshawar to the border town of Torkham has been shut down until the operation is complete, he said, adding: "Supplies to NATO forces have temporarily been suspended."...
"This is a giant operation. It will continue until we achieve our objective," Hayat said, adding that the operation could be expanded beyond the area near Jamrud – located between Peshawar and Torkham – if necessary.
The military had identified 26 militant sites to target, Mr. Hayat said.
He said the local Kukikhel tribe had been found to be harbouring Taleban militants....
The BBC's Charles Haviland in Islamabad says attention is now shifting back to the troubles in the Afghan border region, after a month of heightened tensions with India after the attacks on Mumbai [formerly Bombay].
Security forces launched the operation against militants after they ignored a deadline to surrender, reports the Associated Press. It is unclear how long the operation will last and when NATO supply lines will resume.
Eight persons, including two militants, two children and two women, were killed in shelling in Jamrud sub-district of Khyber Agency, TV channels reported. Local residents said heavy artillery and gunship helicopters were used to pound militant positions in mountainous areas....
Officials said the offensive is currently focussed on Jamrud, the main town in Khyber Agency that is located on the key highway. The operation is aimed at restoring the government's writ in the area and will continue till all militants from four groups, including the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, are flushed out of the region, they said.
According to AFP, the International Security Assistance Force has not reacted strongly to the suspension of NATO supplies on Tuesday.
A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, contacted in Kabul, said the Pakistani army offensive had thus far had "no impact" on foreign forces.
"We know about the operation but our information through our logistics experts is that there is no impact on our supplies," British Royal Navy Captain Mark Windsor told AFP.
Since September the Taleban in Pakistan have targeted vehicles carrying supplies for foreign forces in Afghanistan.
They have hijacked lorries, stolen their cargo and kidnapped their drivers.
Some lorry drivers recently suspended organised convoys to Afghanistan due to the worsening security although some supplies did continue under heavy paramilitary guard.
The NATO supply line from Pakistan to Afghanistan has been interrupted previously. On Dec. 15, Pakistani goods carriers announced they would no longer transport supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan owing to the security threat posed by militants, reported Reuters.
"We have stopped supplies for NATO forces for security reasons," said Noor Khan Niazi, president of the Karachi Goods Carriers Association. His members truck most Western military supplies from Karachi port to depots on the outskirts of northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. From there, Peshawar-based truckers take the goods through the Khyber Pass to the border crossing at Torkham.
"They are killing drivers and destroying everything. We have sent nothing for the last eight to 10 days," Niazi said.
More than 300 NATO supply vehicles have been attacked by Taliban militants this month. The largest attack occurred on Dec. 7 near Peshawar when some 200 militants torched more than 160 vehicles bound for Afghanistan. According to The Christian Science Monitor, the attack marked "an intensification of a militant strategy: attacking US and NATO supply lines. Some 70 percent of their equipment in Afghanistan comes through Pakistan."
The Pakistani government had previously suspended supply lines for NATO forces in Afghanistan on Sept. 6, when the security situation initially worsened, reported The Daily Times, a Pakistani daily.
"All Afghanistan-bound supplies for the International Security Assistance Force have been stopped as the [Torkham] highway is vulnerable," Khyber Agency Political Agent Tariq Hayat told Daily Times, dismissing the impression that the decision is a reaction to continued United States attacks in Waziristan.