Mon, Jan 17, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Gunmen torch 14 NATO oil tankers

AP, CHAMAN, PAKISTAN

Gunmen attacked tankers carrying fuel for US and NATO forces in Afghanistan as they sat parked at a roadside restaurant in southwest Pakistan on Saturday, setting 14 of the vehicles ablaze, officials said.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault, which also left one driver wounded.

Islamist militants and criminals in Pakistan frequently attack trucks carrying supplies for US and NATO troops. The supplies typically arrive in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi and travel overland to Afghanistan.

The latest attack occurred in the Dera Murad Jamali area of Baluchistan Province, said Fatteh Mohammed, a local -government -official. The trucks were likely headed to the border crossing in the town of Chaman, the smaller of two such crossings into Afghanistan.

The home secretary of Baluchistan, Akbar Hussain Durani, said 136 NATO tankers were destroyed in 56 such attacks last year in the province. Some 34 -people died and 23 were wounded in the attacks, he said.

It was not immediately possible to get similar data from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, where such attacks are believed to be more common. The Khyber tribal region, which is also in the northwest but not technically part of the province, is home to the larger border crossing.

Pakistani Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq said the militant group was behind Saturday’s strike, which involved eight gunmen. Police have refused to speculate on who was behind the attack.

“We have assigned our fighters to go after the NATO supply tankers wherever in Pakistan,” Tariq said by phone from an undisclosed location. “We want to make very, very difficult all land routes for NATO in Pakistan.”

The Pakistani Taliban are separate from, yet linked to, the Afghan Taliban. While both make common cause against the US, the Pakistani Taliban also are focused on attacking the Pakistani state.

US officials insist the attacks have had little to no impact on Western troops’ operations in -Afghanistan, noting that up to 3,000 US and NATO supply trucks are on Pakistan’s roads on any given day. Nonetheless, the US-led coalition has begun relying more on other routes.

According to the US embassy in Islamabad, up to 80 percent of non-lethal supplies traveled through Pakistani soil three years ago, but that number fell to 40 percent last year. Another 40 percent go through Central Asian routes and 20 percent travel by air.

Also on Saturday, a group of senior religious leaders from various Muslim sects in Pakistan agreed to form a committee to look into the abuse of harsh blasphemy laws that call for the death penalty for people convicted of insulting Islam.

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