Pakistan Crossing Remains Shut to NATO Trucks After U.S. Apology

Pakistan kept shut the main border crossing used to supply NATO troops in Afghanistan a day after the U.S. apologized for killing three Pakistani soldiers in the air strike that triggered the transit point’s closure.

At least 2,500 trucks are backed up waiting for permission to enter Afghanistan, Khawaja Muhammad Khan, president of the nationwide truckers body, said by phone from Peshawar, the main city in Pakistan’s northwest. Khan Pasand Khan, a government official in Khyber Agency, confirmed there had been no order to allow trucks and fuel tankers, dozens of which were set ablaze by militants in the past week, to cross the Torkham border post.

Pakistan closed the Khyber Pass route into Afghanistan after the Sept. 30 attack by U.S. helicopters, which the American ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson yesterday called a “terrible accident.” Taliban guerrillas claimed responsibility for recent strikes on tankers parked along the route to Torkham, through which flow most of the 580 truckloads per day of supplies and fuel contracted by NATO.

Guerrillas late yesterday launched the fourth major assault on supply lines for 142,000 North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops fighting the Afghan Taliban since the border point was closed. The attack destroyed 50 fuel tankers in the northwest city of Nowshera, Himayat Shah, general secretary of the All-Pakistan Combined Trucks and Trailers Welfare Association, said by telephone from Karachi today.

‘Sitting Ducks’

“More than 100 trucks supplying fuel and cargo are stranded” in Nowshera, district police officer Nisar Ahmed Tanoli said by phone. “I have directed drivers to scatter around the city so they do not become sitting ducks for attackers.”

Gunmen yesterday set fire to 10 out of 30 fuel trucks parked near the southwestern city of Quetta on their way to the nearby Chaman border crossing into Afghanistan. While Chaman has remained open, Dawn News reported yesterday that 152 trailers and oil tankers with “tampered” documents had been detained there.

With the week-long border closure, Pakistan “has exercised one of its key levers against its ally: reminding Washington of its reliance on Pakistani territory to wage the war in Afghanistan,” the Austin, Texas, risk analysis firm Stratfor said.

A joint U.S.-Pakistani investigation established that the U.S. helicopters mistook the Pakistani Frontier Scouts for insurgents, the U.S. embassy in Kabul said in a statement. Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, Husain Haqqani, has linked the investigation to the border supply route being re-opened.

‘Deepest Apology’

“We extend our deepest apology to Pakistan and the families of the Frontier Scouts who were killed and injured,” Patterson said in a statement. “Pakistan’s brave security forces are our allies in a war that threatens both Pakistan and the U.S.”

Army General David Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, offered condolences to the families of those killed and wounded and said the coalition “deeply” regrets the loss of life.

“The helicopters fired on a building later identified as a Pakistan border outpost, in response to shots fired from the post,” the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said in its statement. “The assessment team considered it most probably that they had fired in an attempt to warn the helicopters of their presence.”

The U.S.-commanded NATO forces in Afghanistan crossed into Pakistani territory several times last month, Pakistani officials have said. The Obama administration in September quadrupled its missile strikes in northwest Pakistan against Islamic guerrilla groups that are fighting it in Afghanistan and that might be linked to what Western governments say is a possible plot for terrorist attacks in Europe.

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