Pakistan on Tuesday cut off supplies to NATO and US forces in Afghanistan via the Khyber Pass as security forces launched a major operation against militants there, an official said.
The operation comes after a series of spectacular raids by suspected Taliban militants on foreign military supply depots in northwest Pakistan earlier this month in which hundreds of NATO and US-led coalition vehicles were destroyed.
Pakistani security forces sent tanks, helicopter gunships and artillery units into the lawless Khyber tribal region on the Afghan border before dawn, the area’s administrator Tariq Hayat told reporters in Peshawar.
“We have launched an operation against militants and armed groups in Jamrud,” the gateway to the Khyber Pass, Hayat said.
The main highway linking Peshawar to the border town of Torkham has been shut down until the operation is complete, he said, adding: “Supplies to NATO forces have temporarily been suspended.”
“This is a giant operation. It will continue until we achieve our objective,” Hayat said, adding that the operation could be expanded beyond the area near Jamrud — located between Peshawar and Torkham — if necessary.
The Khyber tribal area official said the operation was aimed at putting a stop to attacks on NATO supply vehicles, as well as a spate of kidnappings for ransom in the tribal badlands, where Taliban and al-Qaeda militants are active.
“We have 26 targets — we will eliminate their hideouts,” Hayat said, adding that three people had been injured so far, including a security official.
The bulk of the supplies and equipment required by NATO and US-led forces battling the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan is shipped to Pakistan’s largest port, Karachi, in the south.
From there, the containers of food, fuel, vehicles and munitions are taken by truck to depots outside Peshawar before being transported to Afghanistan via the Khyber Pass.
But the fabled road passes through the heart of Pakistan’s lawless tribal zone, where extremists sought refuge after Afghanistan’s hardline Taliban regime was ousted in a US-led invasion at the end of 2001.
Two weeks ago, several haulage companies in Pakistan refused to ply the 50km route, saying the security of their drivers could not be ensured.
But the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) downplayed the significance of the move by the Khyber Transport Association, saying it was continuing to receive supplies.
“We continue to monitor the impact of that. It is not our only means of [getting] supplies,” an ISAF spokesman, British Royal Navy Captain Mark Windsor, said.