Pakistan closes Torkham border crossing, shuts down NATO's supply line


Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the tribal areas. Map from PBS' Frontline. Click to view.

Pakistan closed the Torkham border crossing in the Khyber tribal agency. The road through the Khyber Pass is NATO's primary supply line into Afghanistan.

The government claimed poor security on the strategic road into Afghanistan forced the closure. The road has been shut down exclusively for NATO traffic.

"All Afghanistan-bound supplies for the International Security Assistance Force have been stopped as the [Torkham] highway is vulnerable," the Khyber Agency's political agent told Daily Times.

According to Dawn, the closure only applies to fuel trucks heading to Afghanistan. But trucks carrting supplies other than fuel have been held up at the border. "Over 20 heavily-loaded vehicles, including oil tankers, were stranded at the border town of Torkham following the government's decision," the Pakistani newspaper reported.

An estimated 70 percent of NATO supplies move through Khyber to resupply troops fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The bulk of NATO's supplies arrive in the port city of Karachi, move north to Peshawar, and head west to the Torkham crossing into Afghanistan and the final destination in Kabul. The rest of the supplies pass through the Chaman border crossing point in Baluchistan or arrive via air.

The Taliban has increased attacks against trucks shipping NATO supplies. The group has issued death threats to Pakistani truckers hauling NATO goods into Afghanistan.

A response to US attacks in Pakistan

The closure of the Torkham crossing point to NATO traffic occurs just as the US has ramped up its cross-border strikes inside Pakistan's Taliban-controlled tribal agencies.

The Pakistani government denied the move to close the road in Khyber to NATO traffic was related to the recent US airstrikes and a ground assault in the Waziristan tribal agencies further south.

"This decision has nothing to do with the situation in Waziristan or the US attacks,' the political agent said."This is purely a security issue and we want no untoward incident to take place as far as supplies for ISAF are concerned." No timeframe was given for the reopening of the road for NATO supply columns.

The move to close the border occurred the same day the Pakistani military said it could respond to US attacks inside Pakistani territory.

"Pakistan reserves the right to appropriately retaliate in future," General Tariq Majid, the Chairman of Pakistan's Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, told Germany defense minister.

The US has conducted an unprecedented air campaign over the past week in North and South Waziristan. The US has conducted five cross-border attacks inside Pakistan since Aug 31. Three of the strikes occurred in North Waziristan, and two in South Waziristan.

The US has stepped up its attacks against al Qaeda and the Taliban's networks inside Pakistan over the past year. There have been 13 confirmed cross-border attacks by the US in Pakistan this year [see list below]. Five safe houses have been hit in North Waziristan, six have been hit in South Waziristan, and two have been targeted in Bajaur this year. Only 10 such cross-border strikes were recorded in 2006 and 2007 combined.

The most controversial strike involved special operations teams inserted by helicopters in a village in South Waziristan just one mile from the Afghan border on Sept. 3. This is the second recorded incident of the direct involvement of US ground troops in a raid inside Pakistan since 2006.

Background on this year's attacks

Three senior al Qaeda operatives have been confirmed killed during this year's cross-border strikes in Pakistan.

Abu Khabab al Masri, al Qaeda's bomb expert and weapons of mass destruction chief, was killed South Waziristan on July 28. Abu Sulayman Jazairi, al Qaeda's external operations chief, was killed in Bajaur on May 14. Abu Laith al Libi, a senior commander in Afghanistan and the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, was killed in North Waziristan on Jan. 28.

While the strikes have disrupted al Qaeda's senior leadership, they have done little to disrupt the growth of al Qaeda and the Taliban in northwestern Pakistan.

The Taliban, al Qaeda, and allied terrorist groups have established 157 training camps and more than 400 support locations in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal.

The Taliban has organized some of its fighters into military formations. Al Qaeda has reformed the notorious 055 Brigade, the Arab legion of al Qaeda fighters that was destroyed during the initial US assault in Afghanistan in late 2001. Additional al Qaeda brigades have been formed, intelligence officials informed The Long War Journal.

Foreign al Qaeda fighters have flocked to the Pakistani border regions. On July 23, Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani and his cabinet were told that more than 8,000 foreign fighters were operating in the tribal areas.



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READER COMMENTS: "Pakistan closes Torkham border crossing, shuts down NATO's supply line"

Posted by don juice at September 6, 2008 1:23 AM ET:

how will they retaliate? thats what i wanna know cause we will keep striking until they start waking up and now they know how we feel

Posted by indra sartika at September 6, 2008 6:38 AM ET:

Go NATO!!

Posted by RR at September 6, 2008 9:18 AM ET:

I hope this eventuality was planned for. There are 3 other options, former Soviet Union, Iran, and China. Or this could just be smoke and mirrors. I would like the uptick to continue until Pakistan does something to solve the problem.

Posted by Neo at September 6, 2008 9:46 AM ET:

"Security Threat", Hmm. Sounds as if Pakistan is hedging its bets. In any case, not a good development. We'll see whether the road is reopened after a new Pakistani president is chosen or if it will remain closed for a time.

Posted by Private Finch at September 6, 2008 9:46 AM ET:

Make the next strike a drone attack on the headquarters of the Pakistan army.

Posted by Nic at September 6, 2008 10:07 AM ET:

QUOTE "The Taliban has increased attacks against trucks shipping NATO supplies. The group has issued death threats to Pakistani truckers hauling NATO goods into Afghanistan."

Sounds like the time for Marines to start driving the trucks à la the Red Ball Express.

Posted by Neo at September 6, 2008 10:43 AM ET:

Get real guy's! I'm for giving the Taliban a hellfire headache just as much as the next guy, but the line of supply is still a much larger priority. I don't see a direct confrontation with Pakistan just yet. Unfortunately, I see us putting the targeted bombings on the back burner at least until a Pakistani president is chosen and the US election is over. I'm not saying we will completely stop either. It's not a good idea to get in the habit of backing up for these guy's, but you do what you have too.

We stuck our foot in to test the water, and the sharks showed up. Right now probably isn't the best time to dive into a confrontation with Pakistan head first. We need to see how the political situation will shape up at home and in Pakistan.

Posted by Brian at September 6, 2008 11:25 AM ET:

This is Pakistan's ultimate leverage point. Their use of it should be met by a very severe US response. The administration should suspend any aid and all military sales and immediately begin heavy (B52, B1, B2) strikes to obliterate the 157 camps that have been identified. Pakistan will be brought to its senses very quickly. We have to make it very clear that this is a red line that moves them from the friendly country column to the hostile country column. We could also clear India to purchase more high tech fighters/missile defense.

Posted by Rhyno327/lrsd at September 6, 2008 12:01 PM ET:

Its been said for months, if you are going to cross that border, better find an alternate route for logistics. I believe the only way to hurt the T-ban/AQ, is to hit thier camps with a round of air-strikes involving B-52's, B-1B's and F-15E's. This reaction from P-stan should come as no surprise, I just hope they thought this out. Its time to pour it on, a body shot that will crumple the hadji's for a while, giving A-stan a chance to breathe, regroup. There is no doubt we have done the right thing, since that $10BILLION got us 157 training camps, they did it with impunity, KNOWING the P-stani's would do nothing. Put together the strike package's, and let it rip. Its on now.

Posted by Neo at September 6, 2008 12:11 PM ET:

Brian,

You don't have the political space to be anywhere near that aggressive. You'll have the entire world plus half your own populous on your neck over it. If Al Qaeda bombed the US again, than you could contemplate such a response. Short of that, you have to slowly create enough political space to work within. We need to be stubborn and relentless, not do something rash. Let the Taliban get frustrated and make it's enemies.

Posted by iPhone at September 6, 2008 12:23 PM ET:

This really isn't good news

Posted by Brian at September 6, 2008 2:02 PM ET:

Perhaps you are correct that comprehensive strikes on the camps is going too far Neo. But, one thing that I think cannot be accepted by the United States, or Afghanistan or NATO is relying solely on Pakistan to control the frontier provinces. That would mean perpetual warfare in Afghanistan, which, given the limited resolve in the West, guarantees that it will be lost. Doing nothing at this point might be conceding the war.

That is the gauntlet Pakistan just threw down. They are telling us that their territory is off limits even though they are unable (and unwilling to seriously try to) exercise their "sovereignty" over it. This makes it evident that they have been playing us for our money. They do not want to get rid of the Taliban and AQ because it would mean that we would no longer have a reason provide them with aid and doing so would weaken their ability to use those entities to attack and otherwise manipulate their neighbors.

We must change that calculation. The only way that I can think to do that is to cut them off form support and then apply additional pressure (cozying up to India) that makes them too busy fearing for their existence to try to continue to play their lucrative double game. We must to something bold and aggressive. Anything else will be perceived as a capitulation to Pakistan's new rules.

Posted by Cannoneer No. 4 at September 6, 2008 2:28 PM ET:

Free Baluchistan!

Posted by cjr at September 6, 2008 5:14 PM ET:

The alternate routes are still open:

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia/2008/09/2008967658362588.html

The Chaman crossing, where supplies bound for foreign forces in the south of Afghanistan, particularly Kandahar, was operating normally on Saturday.

In April, Russia agreed to allow Nato to transport non-lethal supplies through its territory and into northern Afghanistan.

Posted by Render at September 6, 2008 6:18 PM ET:

Houston, we may have a problem here...

TOLD
YA
SO,
R

Posted by Red (Pete) Howard at September 6, 2008 9:51 PM ET:

Neo: once again, you are the voice of reason. I think we agree that it is a spectacular display of bad judgement to let the uniforms loose in the FATA - sure, you'll feel good for 48 hours, but the locals will turn against you and good luck in getting desperately needed supplies through the Khyber Pass. They'll shut 'er completely down before the sun sets. Unless Tall Man is getting rolled into a carpet, the USM has NO business putting boots on the ground in the FATA - the locals are doing just fine in providing support/targeting AND they are now throwing the foreign devils (AQ/Tban) out in selected areas of Dir and Bajaur. Having the choice of a missle strike or a TBan leader coming home to find his elder son's head on a pole courtesy of the local malik, I'll take the latter.

Posted by Mus at September 7, 2008 7:15 AM ET:

If Pakistan chooses to halt NATO supplies through its territories,it is fully justified to do so.In this farce called 'war on terror',the country has paid a heavy and bloody price.
Pakistan helps sends fuel and arms to NATO who then uses the ammunition to attack villagers and civilians inside Pakistan,as if Pakistani borders do not exist as far as NATO is concerned.

[posted from CHICAGO ILLINOIS]

Posted by bard207 at September 7, 2008 8:23 AM ET:

Mus

Considering the minimal control by the GoP (Government of Pakistan) and general mayhem going on in FATA and NWFP, the GoP has a POV -- philosophy that a border does not exist between Pakistan & Afghanistan.

No complaints from the GoP when the militants freely cross the border in both directions. Yet, there is an uproar when the US goes looking for the militants that the GoP won't stop.

Posted by Rhyno327/lrsd at September 7, 2008 10:17 AM ET:

If you want to leave it to the P-stani's to bomb the camps, act on valuable intel and take the fight to the T-ban/AQ, don't hold ur breath. Yes, some tribes are fighting and ousting T-ban from thier areas, but they are outnumbered. I said for months to find another route, coz the only way I can see us slowing the enemy down is hit them where they live, 157 training camps, operating with impunity. The P-stani's whine and moan, and they have done next to NOTHING. The fight in Bajaur has stopped due to Ramadan, you think Hadji is gonna take a day off? The P-stanis wanted the Block-50 F-16 package, but for wat reason? They are more concerned about India, and wat the US is paying for is not being used properly. Why don't the P-stani's bomb the camps? They don't care. Time is up, its time to hit them where they live, since P-stan is not interested. Its gonna get uglier, but A-stan needs some breathing room.

Posted by Raja at September 7, 2008 5:27 PM ET:

Well I think Pakistan should close all contacts with US. Enough is enough. US has corssed the line.

[posted from MINNEAPOLIS MINNESOTA]

Posted by Ahmad at September 7, 2008 5:37 PM ET:

Pakistan has paid the heaviest price in the war on terror so far, but the US has the nerve to ask us to do more. If 10 billion dollars a year had gone to the civil sector instead of the military, the situation would not have been so dire. The US says it can only goes across the border acting on actionable intel but the first such raid ended up killing 20 civillians. Just fills me with confidence abt the next raid conducted on 'actionable' intel. Next time, US forces inside Pakistan should be treated as enemies. We'll use the same excuse the US keeps using: we thought it was the Taliban.

[Posted from HAVERFORD COLLEGE, SWARTHMORE, PENNSYLVANIA]

Posted by Render at September 7, 2008 9:13 PM ET:

Well, this is an interesting set of trolls in this thread.

=

Here's how it works...

Do something about the Taliban freakazoid spree killers pouring out of their Pakistani training camps, or we will.

Do note that using civilians as human shields means that the Taliban doesn't get to squeal about civilian casualties. We've already heard the "wedding party" scam a million times before.

Do note that the US Air Force and US Navy have been very under utilized in this war so far. Closing those convoy routes could cost Pakistan it's air force and navy, all of it - and a 30 mile wide corrider of death running from the Pakistani coast to the Afghan border.

CLEAR,
R

Posted by Private Finch at September 10, 2008 7:10 PM ET:

Regarding the three visiting trolls; I think they are the same troll acting as three. He must be bored.