Sun, Jan 04, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Pakistan reopens key route for US, NATO

UNDER SIEGE Militants have stepped up attacks against convoys passing through Khyber in recent months and have ransacked terminals in the nearby Peshawar


Pakistan has reopened the main supply route for US and NATO troops in Afghanistan after blocking it for three days during an operation against militants blamed for repeated attacks on convoys in the Khyber Pass, an official said.

Authorities said the operation was a success, but a similar offensive in June failed to curtail attacks and was followed by a controversial peace deal with tribal elders in the northwest Khyber region that US officials said allowed militants to regroup.

The US has said it would deploy up to 30,000 additional troops to landlocked Afghanistan this year, further increasing the importance of secure supply routes through Pakistan, which deliver up to 75 percent of the fuel, food and other goods used by Western forces.

Militants have stepped up attacks against convoys passing through Khyber in recent months and have ransacked terminals in the nearby city of Peshawar holding supplies intended for the Afghan army.

US officials say the attacks have not affected their ability to operate in Afghanistan, but the officials have acknowledged they are looking for ways to improve security along the route and are investigating alternative ways to deliver supplies.

They have praised the Pakistani operation, which started on Tuesday and used artillery and helicopter gunships to destroy suspected militant hide-outs.

The top administration official in Khyber, Tariq Hayat Khan, said on Friday that the operation would continue, but not would not be close enough to the road through the Khyber Pass to disrupt traffic, allowing the supply route to reopen.

Khan displayed a large cache of weapons seized during the operation and said 43 suspected militants had been arrested.

The US has also attempted to disrupt al-Qaeda and Taliban militants on the Afghan border by firing missiles from unmanned aircraft.

A suspected US missile strike killed three militants and wounded two others in the South Waziristan tribal area on Friday, the second in as many days in the lawless region, said two intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Villager Yar Mohammed said the missile hit an abandoned school in the village of Medan.

The strikes have angered local residents and the Pakistani government, which says they are a violation of the country’s sovereignty. But the US has continued the practice in an attempt to stop the militants from staging cross-border attacks against Western forces in Afghanistan.

Washington usually does not confirm such strikes, and Pakistani military officials were not immediately available for comment on Friday’s attack.

Militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas have also tried to enforce their strict interpretation of Islam on local residents.

Militants in North Waziristan warned on Friday that all coeducational schools in the region must close by tomorrow or they “will be responsible for their actions.”

Clerics read out the warning at mosques during Friday prayers in the region’s main town of Miran Shah, which has two such schools.

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