Hulks of burned out NATO vehicles litter a shipping terminal in Peshawar after the Taliban launched a military assault on the compound. AP photo.
The Taliban launched military assaults on two shipping terminals in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, destroying more than 160 NATO military vehicles and supplies destined for Afghanistan. Security in the northwestern city is deteriorating as the Taliban seeks to control the region and shut down NATO’s logistical chain to Afghanistan.
The first attack took place at the Portward Logistic Terminal. An estimated 200 to 300 Taliban fighters fired rockets at the front gate, destroying the entrance and leveling the wall. The nine security guards on duty fled in the face of the massed Taliban attack.
Taliban fighters then fired rocket propelled grenades into the compound and proceeded to set fire to the NATO vehicles parked inside. “There were dozens of them. They started firing, they used rockets, causing a lot of damage,” the manager of the shipping terminal told the Associated Press.
The Taliban force rampaged in the compound for more than forty minutes before Peshawar police responded. The Taliban force disengaged after clashing with the police, leaving the terminal in ruins. “They were shouting Allahu Akbar (God is Great) and Down With America,” a security guard told Reuters.
The attack was devastating. One security guard was killed and at least 106 NATO vehicles, including more than 70 Humvees, were destroyed. “In this incident 96 flat trucks and six containers were destroyed, including a 40-foot container,” the terminal manager said. “Also armored jeeps, trucks and fire brigade vehicles.”
A second attack took place at the Al Faisal Terminal. A large Taliban force stormed the terminal after overwhelming the security guards. Three Pakistanis, including the terminal watchman, were killed in the attack. Sixty-two Humvees and other vehicles were reported destroyed in the attack.
It is unclear if the same Taliban force conducted both attacks, or if two separate Taliban units operated simultaneously.
The Pakistani government shut down the vital Khyber Pass crossing two times this year. The first time, the government closed the crossing to protest US airstrikes against Taliban and al Qaeda operatives sheltering in the tribal areas. The second time was in response to the poor security situation.
The government said NATO convoys would be accompanied and protected by Pakistani military units. But no Pakistani unit was anywhere near the NATO vehicles at the time of the attack on the terminals.
NATO: Attacks are “militarily insignificant”
The US military in Afghanistan downplayed the attacks on the terminals, describing the effects on the NATO operation in Afghanistan as “militarily insignificant.”
“It’s militarily insignificant,” Lieutenant Colonel Rumi Nielsen-Green told AP. “You can’t imagine the volume of supplies that come through there and elsewhere and other ways.”So far there hasn’t been a significant loss or impact to our mission.”
Last week, a NATO official made similar comments concerning last week’s attacks on convoys moving through northwestern Pakistan. “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.”
Today’s attack in Peshawar destroyed enough vehicles to equip several companies of infantry or support units.
Taliban seeks to shut down NATO’s supply line, conquer Peshawar
The Taliban have launched a coordinated campaign to sever the NATO logistical chain stretching from the port city of Karachi to Peshawar, through the Khyber Pass to Kabul. More than 70 percent of NATO supplies move through Peshawar.
The Taliban attacked NATO convoys as well as the Peshawar terminal several times in the past week. Twelve NATO vehicles were damaged in an assault on one of Peshawar’s terminals, while two drivers were killed and two supply vehicles were damaged in a roadside bomb attack at a bridge. Earlier this month, Taliban fighters loyal to Baitullah Mehsud hijacked 13 vehicles in a NATO convoy in Khyber. Two US Humvees were paraded through the tribal agency.
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 touted 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.
The offensive clearly has not succeeded in driving the Taliban from Peshawar, as the multiple attacks on NATO convoys and the string of bombings inside the city demonstrate.
The Taliban have only crept close to Peshawar. The Northwest Frontier Province government called for military action in the Jamrud region, just west of Peshawar, as the Taliban is in control of the area. “The government has to take action or we shall see Iraq-like situation in the area in the coming few months,” an official told Daily Times.