The Taliban launched a nighttime attack against a NATO fuel and supply convoy at a terminal just west of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad and its sister garrison city of Rawalpindi.
At around midnight last night, a team of heavily armed Taliban fighters, estimated at 15 men, rolled up to the terminal at Tarnol on motorcycles and trucks, then fired RPGs and threw hand grenades and petrol bombs at the parked fuel and supply trucks. The Taliban then laid down fire as rescue teams attempted to put out the blaze at the terminal.
“After attacking the convoy and setting the vehicles on fire these terrorists continued to fire indiscriminately to prevent any rescue and relief operation,” Inspector General of Islamabad Police Syed Kaleem Imam told Geo News. The firefight was said to have lasted for more than an hour.
Eight people, including two drivers, were killed in the attack, while more than 30 NATO fuel and supply trucks were destroyed.
Last night’s attack comes just five days after warnings emerged that the Taliban would hit NATO terminals in Punjab. On June 4, the government shut down all “unauthorized” NATO terminals in the districts of Mianwali and Attock after intelligence sources warned that the Taliban were actively plotting attack.
The proximity of the attack to the capital has sent shockwaves through the Pakistani government; Tarnol is just two miles from the main entrance to Islamabad. Immediately after the attack, security was placed on high alert in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
The Taliban attack against the NATO convoy in Tarnol is the latest attack on NATO trucking to occur outside the tribal areas. In 2007 and 2008, the Taliban continually hit NATO supply convoys as they moved through the Khyber Pass in the remote tribal agency of Khyber. More than 700 NATO trucks were destroyed in the fall of 2007 and winter of 2008, and the Khyber Pass was shut down six times during that period. The Khyber Pass is NATO’s main conduit for supplies into Afghanistan; more than 70 percent of the supplies move through this strategic crossing point.
Since 2008, while the Taliban have continued to attack convoys in Khyber, they have diverted resources to attack NATO convoys in the provinces of Punjab and Baluchistan. Multiple attacks have been recorded in these two provinces since the beginning of 2009. In February 2009, the Punjab government was forced to order the closure of two facilities used by truckers transporting supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan, due to the rising violence.
The bold Taliban attack just outside Islamabad and Rawalpindi comes as the central Pakistani government and the provincial government of Punjab have been feuding over the extent of jihadist penetration of the province. Senior Punjabi politicians and clerics have denied that the Taliban and other terror groups are a threat, and some have even stated there is no extremist problem in Punjab. Interior Minister Rehman Malik has backtracked on statements in which he said there was a need to conduct a military operation in Punjab; he later said the problem was one for the police to deal with.
Punjab province is the home to tens of thousands of trained terrorists. According to a September 2009 report in Newsline, the district of Bahawalpur, just one of many in Punjab province, “alone could boast of approximately 15,000-20,000 trained militants” from the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Mohammad, and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
These terror groups, which have been created and supported by Pakistan’s military and religious establishment over the past four decades, are entrenched in Punjab. Many of the members and leaders of these groups now support the Taliban and have organized under the banner of the Movement of the Taliban in Punjab.
These so-called Punjabi Taliban train in Pakistan’s tribal areas and fight the military there; they also conduct terror attacks and armed assaults against military, police, government, and civilian installations in Pakistan’s major cities. In addition, the Punjabi Taliban are closely allied with al Qaeda, as well as with the so-called ‘good Taliban’ leaders such as Mullah Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadar. The Pakistani government refuses to move against the ‘good Taliban’ as they do not openly advocate attacking the Pakistani state.
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