Pakistan blocks fuel supply route to Western forces

PESHAWAR, Pakistan Sat Sep 6, 2008 3:29pm IST

Trucks loaded with supplies for NATO forces wait to cross the southwest Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing in Chaman September 6, 2008. REUTERS/Saeed Ali Achakzai

Trucks loaded with supplies for NATO forces wait to cross the southwest Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing in Chaman September 6, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Saeed Ali Achakzai

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PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan blocked a major fuel supply route for Western forces in Afghanistan on Saturday in response to a raid by U.S. forces into northwest Pakistan this week, the defence minister said.

U.S. commandos attacked suspected militants inside Pakistani territory on Wednesday, killing 20 people including women and children, Pakistani officials said, and drawing a furious response from the Pakistani government.

"We have told them that we will take action and we have already taken action today. We have stopped the supply of oil and this will tell how serious we are," Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar told Dawn Television.

Fuel supplies have been blocked from crossing through the main crossing point at Torkham on the Pakistani-Afghan border near Peshawar, capital of North West Frontier Province.

Earlier, an official in the northwest said the fuel was being stopped temporarily because of worries about security on the Pakistani side. Militants have been attacking trucks in the Khyber Pass, on the way to Torkham.

The decision to block fuel crossing the border at Torkham illustrates just how vulnerable supplies for U.S. and other foreign forces in Afghanistan are.

Most fuel and other supplies for U.S. forces in Afghanistan are trucked through Pakistan, crossing the border at two points: Torkham and Chaman, to the southwest.

The Chaman crossing, where supplies bound for foreign forces in the Afghan south, particularly Kandahar, pass in from Pakistan, was operating normally on Saturday.

In April, Russia agreed to allow NATO to transport non-lethal supplies through its territory and into northern Afghanistan.

A spokesman at the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, at Bagram, declined to comment while a spokesman for a separate NATO-led force said they had no reports of convoys being blocked.

"As far as we know, all our convoys are getting through," the NATO force spokesman said.

"DISRUPT SAFE HAVENS"

Wednesday's pre-dawn, helicopter-borne ground assault on the village of Angor Adda in South Waziristan on the Afghan border on Wednesday was the first known incursion into Pakistan by U.S. troops since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Pakistan has been a close U.S. ally in the unpopular campaign against terrorism and it has tens of thousands of soldiers battling militants. But it forbids incursions by foreign forces.

The United States says al Qaeda and Taliban militants lurk in sanctuaries in northwest Pakistan's ethnic Pashtun tribal areas on the border, where they orchestrate attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and plot violence in the West.

The Bush administration has not officially acknowledged any U.S. involvement in Wednesday's raid.

But Pentagon officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the attack targeted suspected operatives and aimed to disrupt safe havens for militants who threaten U.S., NATO and Afghan forces across the border.

Pakistan's envoy in the United States said on Friday the raid had failed to capture anyone important and helped militants by enraging the Pakistani public.

While Wednesday's attack was the first known ground assault, there have been numerous missile strikes on militants in Pakistan, most believed launched by U.S.-operated pilotless drone aircraft. Two such attacks occurred this week.

About nine militants were killed by missiles fired by suspected U.S. drones in the northwest on Thursday and Friday.

(Additional reporting by Ibrahim Shinwar in LANDIKOTAL, Kamran Haider in ISLAMABAD and Sanjeev Miglani in KABUL)

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