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Suspected Taliban fighters torched dozens of NATO supply vehicles at a truck depot on the outskirts of Islamabad late Tuesday, killing seven people, in one of the most brazen assaults on the supply chain to military forces in Afghanistan.
It is the first such attack to strike so close to Pakistan’s heavily fortified capital, and underscores the security challenges facing its government as it continues to crack down on militancy.
"This is surprising how close to Islamabad a group of so many militants have come, and got away with it," Talat Masood, a security analyst and retired general, told Reuters. "It shows there are serious security lapses."
Agence-France Presse reports that the attack took place at the Tarnol truck depot in Rawalpindi on the main road from Islamabad to Peshawar. The depot, which is just 10 kilometers from Islamabad, is a major artery for NATO supplies. AFP called the attack “unprecedented for its proximity to the Pakistani capital.... Although militants have routinely attacked supplies for US and Nato-led foreign forces fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, the assault was one of the worst and underlines insecurity on the doorstep of the heavily-guarded capital."
AFP confirmed at least seven deaths and four injuries, all truck drivers or depot workers.
Al Jazeera says that as many as 12 fighters attacked the depot with machine guns and grenades, destroying more than 50 trucks in a blaze that lasted through the night. India’s The Hindu reports that “with many of the trucks carrying transport fuel, explosions could be heard as the inferno spread rapidly despite fire tenders rushing in from the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad to contain the blaze.”
US commanders say such attacks do not hamper combat operations in Afghanistan because of the large number of trucks already making the journey each week, a number that the Associated Press puts in the “thousands.”
They account for more than 75 percent of all military supplies, and 40 percent of fuel needs, for Western troops in Afghanistan, reports The Guardian. Those thousands of trucks wind along a 1,200-mile-long route that takes them through some of Pakistan’s toughest territory, including the Khyber Pass, into Afghanistan.
The Guardian reports that attacks on convoys further along the route, especially the restive northwestern city of Peshawar, have become less frequent in recent months thanks to military operations in the nearby Khyber and Orakzai tribal areas.
Fighting has become a common occurrence in the tribal areas, and on Tuesday clashes flared again. As many as 54 people were killed in a firefight between militants and Pakistani soldiers that started in Orakzai when the Taliban attacked a convoy of security vehicles, reports the AP. Elements of the Pakistani Taliban have taken refuge in Orakzai since being pushed out of South Waziristan by the Army. Fighting has been intense since the military launched ground operations in the area in March.