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Pakistan temporarily shuts NATO supply route to pursue militants

by Staff Writers
Peshawar, Pakistan (AFP) Jan 14, 2009
Pakistan cut off supplies to NATO and US forces in Afghanistan via the Khyber Pass Wednesday as security forces expanded a major operation against militants in the area, officials said.

The move to shut down the route through Pakistan's northwest tribal areas -- the main road used by NATO supply convoys -- came after the southwest road to Afghanistan reopened following a five-day blockade by local tribesmen.

Security forces ordered Wednesday's closure of the Khyber Pass as they expanded a massive offensive in the rugged Khyber area, first launched about two weeks ago, to flush out militants entrenched in hideouts along the road.

The operation was mounted after a series of spectacular attacks on depots in and around the northwestern city of Peshawar, in which hundreds of vehicles used to ferry supplies to NATO and US forces in Afghanistan were torched.

"The NATO supply route has been temporarily suspended," Khyber administration official Rahat Gul told AFP.

A security official told AFP that the military offensive had been expanded from the town of Jamrud, the gateway to the Khyber Pass, into the neighbouring town of Landi Kotal, where a curfew has been imposed.

Residents of Landi Kotal told AFP that they had been told not to leave their homes, via announcements made using the loudspeakers at local mosques.

"This is the mopping-up stage of the operation," the official said, adding that the border crossing at Torkham had been sealed off, prompting the closure of the Peshawar-Torkham highway.

Six homes used by militants were demolished Wednesday, he said.

Authorities were forced to close the highway linking Peshawar to Torkham for several days at the height of the army offensive in the Khyber area. It was reopened during daylight hours on January 5.

The road passes through the heart of Pakistan's lawless tribal zone, where extremists have sought refuge after Afghanistan's hardline Taliban regime was ousted in a US-led invasion at the end of 2001.

Meanwhile, police said tribesmen had ended a five-day blockade of the southwestern route into Afghanistan, which they had staged over the killing of a local man in a drugs raid.

Hundreds of trucks and tankers had been stranded since Friday along the highway between Quetta and the border town of Chaman -- about 600 kilometres (375 miles) south of the Khyber Pass -- due to the tribesmen's blockade.

The bulk of the supplies and equipment required by NATO and US-led forces battling the Taliban insurgency are transported to Afghanistan via the Khyber Pass, but some are transported via the southwest route or by plane.

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Militants attack NATO truck depot in Pakistan: police
Peshawar, Pakistan (AFP) Jan 13, 2009
Taliban militants launched a rocket attack on a NATO supply depot in northwest Pakistan early Tuesday, torching one truck and damaging three others, police said.

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