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.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.