Pakistan closes border crossing to NATO traffic

Map of the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province. The government signed peace agreements in the red agencies/ districts (the military said Shangla was under Taliban control in October); purple districts are under de facto Taliban control; yellow regions are under Taliban influence.

Pakistan has halted all NATO supply convoys into Afghanistan via the Torkham border crossing point, citing the poor security situation along the vital artery into Afghanistan.

“Hundreds of trucks and containers had been stopped in Peshawar” after the political agent of the Khyber tribal agency shut down traffic along the road, Daily Times reported. “Supplies had been suspended following incidents of looting of trucks and containers carrying oil and other supplies for the NATO forces battling Taliban in Afghanistan.”

An estimated 75 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 US has been quietly trying to secure alternate routes through central Asia.

Taliban forces and criminal elements have hijacked dozens of trucks over the past month, but the most high-profile incident occurred on Nov. 11. Taliban fighters under the command of Baitullah Mehsud, the commander of the Pakistani Taliban, looted thirteen trucks carrying wheat, supplies, and two American-made humvees. The Taliban were photographed parading the vehicles throughout the agency.

The provincial government of the Northwest Frontier Province recommended closing the road on Nov. 11 “because of the volatile security situation on the restive Pak-Afghan border,” according to Daily Times. Some trucking companies are braving the roads, but are doing so without protection.

Pakistan closed the Torkham border crossing once this year. Some officials claimed it was due to the poor security, but the minister of defense and other officials cited the US airstrikes and raids targeting Taliban and al Qaeda forces in the tribal areas. The crossing was reopened the next day.

The road from Peshawar to the Torkham border crossing at the Khyber Pass has been secured by a combination of the paramilitary Frontier Corps and members of the Afridi tribe. A senior US military intelligence official expressed dismay in the performance of these local forces during a conversation with The Long War Journal. The official is also concerned about the deteriorating security situation in Peshawar.

The Taliban have been encroaching on Peshawar since last year, when its fighters began enforces sharia and pressuring businesses to establish Islamic outfits. The Pakistani military launched a military operation in Khyber last June with the goal of relieving pressure on the provincial capital. But the short-lived operation left the extremist forces operating in Khyber intact.

Since the summer, the Taliban have effectively surrounded Peshawar on three sides [see map]. The Taliban run the Mohmand tribal agency and have a strong presence in Charsadda to the North. Khyber to the East is flooded with extremists, and Arakzai to the South is also under Taliban control.

Recently Hamid Nawaza, a retired Pakistani general and military analyst described Peshawar as “besieged from all sides by the terrorists,” according to Daily Times. Nawaza said the police are poorly armed and trained, and often flee during engagements with the Taliban.

Due to the poor security situation, the city has been the target of multiple suicide attacks and kidnappings and assassinations over the past several months. The last suicide attack was aimed at the chief minister of the Northwest Frontier Province on Nov. 11. He narrowly escaped the attack, but two of his bodyguards were killed.

The Taliban have also declared open season of foreign dignitaries, aid workers and journalists. The past week has seen a rash of kidnappings and assassinations against foreigners in Peshawar’s so-called secured neighborhoods. A US aid worker and his driver were killed on Nov. 12. An Iranian consular official was kidnapped on Nov. 13. Two reporters were shot and wounded during a kidnapping attempt on Nov. 14.

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

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  • Rhyno327/lrs says:

    The need for an alternative route remains. This directly affects US personnel. Wat are the chances of US direct action? The jihadists in Khyber must be taken on, and if the P-stani’s can’t-won’t, we must. On the A-stan side of the border, and on the other side, these guys have to be rooted out, eliminated. Logistics is our Achilles heel. They know it, we have to do something about it. Didn’t we get booted out of Uzbekistan? Airlift may not be able to supply the tonnage needed to sustain ops, so wat is the solution? Is there one?

  • Vern says:

    Logistics in Afghanistan has always been our Achilles Heel. I remember our tankers taking RPG fire, some of the RPGs still lodged in the tankers upon arrival at Bagram. All the big stuff I ordered (Red Sea containers, etc) came in via Karachi through either Peshawar or, less likely, Quetta. Only alternative is air, which isn’t sustainable, or to find another ground entry point. Can’t do it via the Wahkhan Corridor, no roads and entry point is China. Can’t do it via Uzbekistan, Tajikistan or Turkmenistan, the road nets aren’t really there and the entry point is either Russia or Iran. Leaves only Iran, with the best entry point via Chah Bahar or possibly Bandar Abbas, both in through Zahedan (alternatively, we could ask to come in at the Shatt al-Arab abd then transload through Teheran with an ultimate netry point of Herat, then round the Ring Road either through Kandahar or up through the north and down through the Salang Tunnel, pretty rough though).
    So, with near to 75,000 to 80,000 US/Coalition floks hanging out there in the wind, supporting a corrupt regime with uncertain supply lines, why would we want to surge another 15,000 or more into that sack?
    Reminds one of a time past, say, 1840 when Elphinstone lost an army through indecision and lack of decivisveness.
    Only answer is for us to either withdraw, or, take the MSRs/LOCs from beginning to end. Meaning take and hold Karachi or Gwador, then then the land lines from there into Afghanistan.
    Of course, a small issue of sovereignty arises, with the ensuing tidbit of real honset to goodness war.
    Easiest route would be withdrawal and then buy the yearly opium crops for medicinal purposes and landfill. Of course, who was it that said “millions for defense, not one cent for tribute.”
    Sticky choices and I don’t see a lot of thought being put into solutions.
    Just my two cents as a 3 tour veteran there.

  • Vern says:

    Please ignore the misspellings, I was pounding away furiously and didn’t check.

  • Lisan says:

    Dear Bill-
    I’m going to ask a couple of really stupid questions, but inquiring minds want to know. I just read the Reuters story on your side bar on the Khyber route, and was struck by the statements that now the US/NATO supply convoys would have security escorts (armed!) and vehicles. So here are the stupid questions: Were these US and NATO convoys lacking such security escorts (armed!) in the past? And exactly who will be the security escorts (armed!)– NATO/US military/civilian people or Pakistani military/civilian security escorts?
    Thanks Bill-

  • Bill Roggio says:

    The trucks are driven by Pakistanis, and went through unescorted. I suspect the escorts will be Pakistani, which is not comforting. Previously the security relied on the checkpoints dotting the road. Obviously these do not work.

  • remoteman says:

    Vern, thanks for your input. There is no way that this is sustainable. It has been obvious since the beginning. We need to create some facade to get out and do so with all haste. We need to leave with the very clear warning that should we need to return, ie if we are hit, then we will come back with airpower only, but use it in a manner not seen since Vietnam (Arc Light). Continuing with the current logistical constraints is just nuts.

  • Lancers says:

    The question is that why has it taken so long for the Taliban to really start attacking these unescorted convoys? Previous attacks had been very sparse, when you would think this would be the Taliban’s number 1 priority and an easy target.
    Obviously, somebody was getting paid somehow to let these convoys pass through.

  • Neo says:

    Somehow we managed to keep supplies going through the Khyber this year in spite of an effort by the Taliban to cut the route, early this year. I’m not sure about all the details of what exactly happened this spring, but a combination of direct force by Pakistani forces, money, and clandestine maneuvering seem to have temporarily turned back that effort. Over the summer the Taliban has been generally tightening its grip on the area, undermining public confidence, and challenging Pakistani troops and police.
    I see the latest disruptions as probing attacks. The Taliban is testing to see where the weak points are, and how much resistance they are likely to get this time around. It is quite likely that we will see another concerted effort to disrupt the route. It would make most sense for such an attack to come early, at the beginning of the fighting season. Whether the Taliban can create a decisive disruption that causes NATO to shift or curtail its operations within Afghanistan is debatable. It’s true that Pakistani control in the area could totally collapse, but I don’t think that to be the most likely outcome this time around. Cutting the route for weeks or even months is more feasible than a sustained occupation of the route. Permanently cutting the route would eventually require the Taliban to make a large scale armed stand against Pakistani forces. I also doubt if the Pakistani government could stand aside and let the Taliban have the area. To do so for too long, might fatally undercut the authority of the Pakistani government and military.
    Short of permanently cutting the route, I see other opportunities a major disruption would create for the Taliban.
    1. Test the compliance of the Pakistani government. Can the Pakistani government be increasingly prodded into banning traffic along the route? To what extent can the Pakistani government be coerced into dropping its cooperation with the US? Will they play along? Will the Pakistani populous support actions to confront the US?
    2. Create a military crises along the boarder which compels the US to strike into Pakistan. The Taliban might just take its lumps to create a deeper boarder conflict. The Pakistani populous and military is sure to vigorously oppose any US incursion under any circumstance.
    3. Create a political crises for the incoming American administration. Put the new administration on the defensive right from the start. Create political climate of panic, failure, and doom about Afghanistan from day one.
    4. Create a crises that will set the narrative for the international press and antiwar movement within the United States.
    5. Force the US to expend more resources on using less desirable alternative supply routes and stockpiling within Afghanistan.
    Of course, I didn’t address long term aspects of this. There will be plenty of opportunities to do so in the future.

  • KW64 says:

    MORE QUESTIONS — In the absence of a secure entry point on the east and south, does Afghanistan’s civilian commerce go through Iran? Would convoy escorts through Khyber serve both commercial and military commerce? Would these supply interuptions threaten the Afghan economy enought that Karzai might have to cozy up to Iran to keep commerce flowing? Would Iran would want a Karzai collapse and return of the Taliban that they fought with?

  • Albert says:

    I personally think a regional solution is in order. Pakistan, India, China, Russia (along with its former Soviet Central States), Saudi Arabia and Iran each have an interest in making Afghanistan secure. I think the US should share the burden in that region with regional players in the area. A stable government in Afghanistan is more important than other goals such as democracy, women’s rights, a war on drugs, or a natural gas pipeline. The Karzai government can not be saved.


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