Military command downplays fuel supply attack

By Sara Sorcher

October 4, 2010

Renewed attacks in Pakistan Monday on U.S. and allied fuel supplies destined for use by troops in Afghanistan will not have any immediate impact on military operations, a spokesman for the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force said.

Less than 1 percent of Afghanistan-bound trucks and traffic have experienced any damage, said the ISAF spokesman, Maj. Joel Harper.

Earlier Monday, bombers in Pakistan set fire to at least 20 tanker trucks carrying fuel for NATO and American troops in Afghanistan. Estimates cited by news accounts had at least six people killed in the incident, the latest of three since Friday, when Taliban militants claimed responsibility for bombing 27 NATO trucks in southern Pakistan.

The attack took place on a supply line stalled due to last week's border closing by Pakistani authorities, in what appears to be a response to a NATO helicopter attack that killed three Pakistani soldiers.

Major Harper said in a phone interview from Kabul that about half of the supply for U.S. and NATO troops comes in through Pakistan's Chaman and Torkham gate. "As these attacks take place, NATO and ISAD have no alternative but to explore other routes with other countries," he said.

Harper said that it is too early to know any specifics about re-routing the supplies.

Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility Monday for two attacks on NATO supply convoys. "We will carry out more such attacks in the future. We will not allow the use of Pakistani soil as a supply route for NATO troops based in Afghanistan," Azam Tariq, spokesman of the Taliban in Pakistan, told the French news service Agence France-Presse.

Tariq also said the attack is to avenge drone attacks.

The CIA has been ramping up its undeclared war in Pakistan's tribal regions along the border, a hotbed for militants who cross into Afghanistan to attack. As CongressDaily reported last week, the CIA launched at least 21 drone attacks in September, double the monthly rate and by far the most ever carried out in a single month.

The unmanned drones killed at least 100 people inside Pakistan, most of them militants.

In a recent significant tactical shift, U.S. forces and NATO have begun using helicopters to directly strike Pakistani targets. On Thursday, NATO helicopters in Pakistani airspace came under fire and killed three in what the ISAF termed "self defense."

"This is no common place," Harper said Monday, referring to the tribal region just over the Pakistani border. "This is where the extremists are. In recent weeks, we've seen substantial numbers of the Haqqani [extremist] movement coming across the border. We're getting shot at and we have an obligation to deal with the threat against our forces."

But Pakistani officials said the victims of Thursday's NATO strike were paramilitary border troops, not insurgents--and just hours later, closed the Torkham border crossing, which is the main supply entry point for NATO troops throughout Afghanistan.

As a result, the already strained U.S.-Pakistan relationship is increasingly under fire. The United States wants the Pakistani government to crack down on extremists along the border, and for its part, the Pakistani government is waiting for a sign of American intentions.

Earlier last week, American military helicopters had launched at least three air strikes on insurgent targets, killing at least 50 people. The strike forecasted President Obama's willingness to allow U.S. troops to target militants across Pakistan's border.

"We will have to see whether we are allies or enemies," Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Thursday after the border closing.


By Sara Sorcher

October 4, 2010

http://www.govexec.com/defense/2010/10/military-command-downplays-fuel-supply-attack/32489/