NATO says Pakistan border closure not affecting Afghanistan operations

Pakistan is keeping the Torkham border crossing, a key supply route for US forces in Afghanistan, closed in apparent retaliation for a NATO attack on a Pakistani border post.

Mohammad Sajjad/AP Photo
Drivers of Afghanistan-bound NATO vehicles are parked at Pakistani border town of Torkham wait on Wednesday, Oct. 6. Pakistan blocked a vital supply route for U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan in apparent retaliation for an alleged cross-border helicopter strike by the coalition that killed three Pakistani frontier troops.

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NATO says that the week-long closure of a key crossing along the Pakistani-Afghan border has "not impeded" its military operations, despite militants burning dozens of resupply vehicles stacked up on the Pakistani side of the border and 6,500 fuel tankers and other supply vehicles being prevented from reaching their destinations in Afghanistan.

The closure is continuing even after the US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan publicly apologized for the Sept. 30 airstrike on a Pakistani border post that sparked the row with Pakistan.

Brigadier-General Josef Blotz, spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), told Reuters that reserve stocks and multiple supply routes are preventing the closure of the Torkham crossing from affecting NATO operations:

"We have plenty of stocks and supplies within Afghanistan, just in case things like this happen. Secondly over the last couple of years we managed to diversify supply routes," Blotz said, adding that only a third of NATO fuel came via Pakistan.

"We also rely on the so called Northern distribution network and we are getting in dry goods, fuel and other essential military equipment through border crossing points with for example Uzbekistan, so there is no shortage, there is no danger for the execution of our operations."

Nonetheless, the closure has stranded 150 tankers at the Torkham crossing, the border crossing closest to Kabul, and stalled another 6,500 supply vehicles that are waiting to enter Afghanistan, reports BBC News. While a second Pakistani-Afghan border crossing remains open at Chaman in the south, it is far less convenient for sending supplies to Kabul. Agence France-Presse reports that since the border closure four people have been killed by militants and some 100 tankers have been destroyed, including at least 40 in two different attacks on Wednesday.

The Torkham crossing was closed in late September after NATO helicopter gunships, in pursuit of Afghan militants, mistakenly attacked a Pakistani border post, killing three Pakistani soldiers and injuring three more. Experts expected the crossing to be reopened in just a day or two, though it has remained closed for seven days.

The Associated Press reports that Pakistan was still mulling Thursday whether to reopen the crossing after a public apology by the US-led NATO forces.

The Washington Post reports that on Wednesday Gen. David Petraeus, the coalition commander in Afghanistan, issued a public apology for the incident, saying that the US and NATO "deeply regret this tragic loss of life and will continue to work with the Pakistan military and government to ensure this doesn't happen again."

The Post adds that NATO acknowledged that the gunships were in Pakistani airspace during the attack and that the border post fired only warning shots, contradicting its earlier position that the gunships were firing from Afghan airspace in self-defense.

In this video footage, RT News shows the fumes of smoke billowing the attacked NATO tankers:

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