The Pakistani government has again shut down the Khyber Pass to NATO supply columns moving into Afghanistan.
The closure of NATO’s vital link to Afghanistan took place after Taliban forces attacked a military base in Khyber with rocket-propelled grenades, killing one Frontier Corps paramilitary trooper and wounding 10 more. The Pakistani military is planning to launch another operation in an effort to clear the Taliban from the region.
“We’re preparing for an assault,” an official told Geo News. “We have imposed curfew in Landikotal and Jamrud (the two main towns in Khyber). The border is also closed.”
During the latter part of 2008, the Taliban stepped up its attacks on NATO columns and shipping terminals in Khyber and Peshawar. More than 300 NATO vehicles and containers have been destroyed in a series of attacks on shipping terminals in Peshawar as well as attacks on convoys moving through the region.
The NATO logistical chain through Pakistan stretches from the port city of Karachi to Peshawar, through the Khyber Pass to Kabul. More than 70 percent of NATO supplies and 40 percent of its fuel moves through Peshawar.
NATO officials have downplayed the Taliban attacks on its convoys as “militarily insignificant,” but the alliance is seeking alternative supply routes to Afghanistan through the Central Asia republics. The US is planning to double its forces in Afghanistan from 30,000 to 60,000 troops in an effort to stem the rising Taliban tide.
The Pakistani government has shut down the Khyber Pass to NATO supplies five times since September 2008.
In September 2008, the government closed the crossing for one day to protest US airstrikes against Taliban and al Qaeda operatives sheltering in the tribal areas. The second closing was in November 2008, in response to the poor security situation in Peshawar and Khyber. The third closing took place on Dec. 30, after the military launched an operation in an attempt to clear the Taliban from Jamrud. The fourth closing took place on Jan. 15 when the military expanded operations along the Afghan border in Khyber.
The new offensive in Khyber is the military’s fourth attempt to clear the Taliban from the Peshawar-Khyber region since the summer of 2008. The previous three operations failed.
The military launched an offensive in Khyber in an effort to clear the Lashkar-e-Islam and the Ansar-ul-Islam militant groups from the region and restore the government’s writ. The offensive ended after 11 days when the government signed a peace agreement with the Lashkar-e-Islam. All of those detained during the operation were released and the region remained under the thumb of Lashkar-e-Islam.
In November 2008, the Pakistani military launched an operation with the intent of clearing the Taliban from the Peshawar district. 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 November offensive failed to drive the Taliban from Peshawar, however, as multiple attacks on NATO convoys and a string of bombings and attacks on foreigners and civilians inside the city continued.
At the end of 2008, the military launched another operation in the Jamrud region just west of Peshawar. The military again claimed success, reporting that it destroyed eight Taliban “bases” and detained 39 fighters. The military claimed it was in the “mopping-up stage of the operation.”
Despite the deteriorating security situation in the Northwest Frontier Province, the Army has decided to pull at least two divisions from the region to bolster the Indian frontier. The 14th Division began withdrawing last week, and it is thought the 23rd Division is also redeploying to the east.