Baitullah Mehsud’s Taliban pose in front of a captured US Humvee after hijacking a supply column on Nov. 10. Baitullah’s Taliban flag is draped over the hood. Photo from AFP.
The Taliban have hit NATO’s precarious supply line through Peshawar the third time in three days. Today, Taliban fighters detonated a bomb under a bridge as a NATO convoy was passing through Peshawar.
The bomb was detonated as the lead vehicle crossed the bridge. Two drivers and a driver’s assistant were wounded, and the bridge was heavily damaged. The convoy was stopped dead in its tracks, but the Taliban did not follow up the bombing with an ambush.
A rocket attack at a truck terminal in Peshawar on Nov. 30 killed a driver and wounding another, and set three NATO shipping containers ablaze. The next day, a Taliban force of 25 men assaulted the truck terminal and killed two drivers and torched 21 trucks. Several Humvees being transported to Afghanistan were burned.
The Pakistani military launched an operation with the intent of clearing the Taliban from the Peshawar district more than three weeks ago. In a press conference, a Pakistan Frontier Corps general briefed on the success of the operation, noting 25 Taliban fighters were killed and 40 captured. The operation, designed to relieve pressure on the provincial capital, was the second military offensive in Peshawar since the summer.
Taliban attacks on NATO trucking are only increasing. The most embarrassing incident occurred on Nov. 10, when a large Taliban force hijacked and looted a NATO convoy in the lawless neighboring tribal agency of Khyber. Thirteen containers in all were seized and two Humvees were driven around by Taliban fighters loyal to Baitullah Mehsud, the same Taliban leader a senior Pakistani Army official described as a “patriot” just two days ago. The hijackers had time to take pictures and posed with a Taliban flag draped on the US-made vehicle.
A NATO official said the attacks are not a serious threat to operations in Afghanistan. “The attacks that have taken place on NATO supplies, while of concern, have not been of strategic significance,” said NATO spokesman James Appathurai. “They have not affected the operation in any substantial way.”
The increase in Taliban attacks comes as Pakistani military officials threatened to move some or all of the 100,000 troops based in northwestern Pakistan to the eastern border with India after tensions have risen over the Mumbai terror siege last week. The Indian government has demanded the Pakistani government hand over a list of 20 senior members and operatives of several terror groups openly operating inside Pakistan.
The withdrawal of Pakistani troops, or even the shift of some military units, could put NATO’s supply lines through Peshawar at risk. The Taliban control large swaths of territory in Pakistan’s northwest, while the military is bogged down in heavy fighting in Swat and Bajaur.
The Peshawar route is the most used by NATO to supply its forces in Afghanistan. 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.
NATO is seeking alternative routes through the former Soviet republics and China, but the road and rail infrastructure is poor and the routes add a significant amount of time and expense to move supplies into Afghanistan.