NATO supply lines into Afghanistan have been cut by a terrorist attack on a key bridge, Riaz Khan reports for AP.
Islamist militants blew up a bridge in northwest Pakistan on Tuesday, cutting a major supply line for Western troops in Afghanistan, a government official and a NATO spokesman said. The attack was the latest in a series on the Khyber Pass by insurgents seeking to hamper the U.S.-led mission against the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. A NATO spokesman in Afghanistan confirmed that supplies along the route had been halted "for the time being," but stressed the alliance was in no danger of running out of food, equipment or fuel.
The attack will add urgency to NATO and U.S. efforts to find alternative supply routes to landlocked Afghanistan, an already vital task given American plans to double its troop numbers in the country.
Hidayat Ullah, a government official in the Khyber tribal area, said the bridge was about 15 miles (25 kilometers) northwest of the main city of Peshawar. He said trucks carrying NATO and U.S. supplies were unable to cross it. It was not immediately clear whether supply convoys could reach Afghanistan through alternative routes in the region, nor how long it would take to rebuild it. Up to 75 percent of the fuel and supplies destined for U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan travel through Pakistan after being unloaded at the port of Karachi. Most are driven along the Khyber Pass.
Pakistan has dispatched paramilitary escorts for supply convoys and cracked down on militants in Khyber, but attacks have persisted in an area that up to three years ago was largely free of violence.
The 30-metre (100-foot) iron bridge was blown up after midnight and administration officials said all traffic along the route was suspended. "Militants blew up the bridge and it’s going to take some time to fix it," said government official Rahat Gul. He declined to estimate how long it might take. Militant attacks over recent months have disrupted supplies but the route had only been briefly closed twice since September.
There are two routes through Pakistan into Afghanistan, one through the Khyber Pass, to the border town of Torkham and on to Kabul. The other runs through Pakistan’s Baluchistan province to the border town of Chaman and on to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.
This attack only increases the need for Russian cooperation in providing alternate routes, further decreasing NATO’s leverage in pressuring Moscow on the Georgia crisis.
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council. Photo by Reuters Pictures.