PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Pakistan suspended truck shipments of U.S. military supplies through the famed Khyber Pass on Tuesday after launching an offensive against militants who are trying to cripple Washington’s war on a resurgent Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.
The U.S. military said a temporary closure of the key supply line was not a problem, and praised the campaign in the rugged hills of northwestern Pakistan where al-Qaida leaders – including Osama bin Laden – are believed hiding.
The operation came amid tensions between Pakistan and its eastern neighbor, India, triggered by last month’s terror attack in Mumbai, which the Indian government and Washington have blamed on Islamic extremists based in Pakistan.
Pakistan urged India to pull back troops that it claimed had been sent near their border after Islamabad began moving troops toward the frontier. India said it had done nothing to aggravate tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors. Both countries also appealed for calm.
Militants in the Khyber Pass have vowed to choke off supplies heading across Pakistan’s western border to American and NATO troops in Afghanistan. Western forces in landlocked Afghanistan rely on the winding, mountainous road for delivery of up to 75 percent of their fuel, food and other goods, which arrive in Pakistan via the port city of Karachi. Ammunition and weapons are flown in.
With the U.S. preparing to almost double the number of its soldiers in Afghanistan next year, the Western forces already were looking for alternate supply routes.
Last month, the Associated Press reported that NATO was close to reaching deals with Central Asian countries north of Afghanistan that would allow the alliance to truck in “non-lethal” supplies from there.
NATO has reached a similar agreement with Russia, alliance officials said.
Tariq Hayat Khan, the top administrator in the Khyber area, said Pakistani security forces were striking at militants using helicopter gunships and heavy artillery. Another official in the region said the road was closed because of the offensive.
“This operation will continue until the goal is achieved, which is nothing less then the elimination of troublemakers,” Khan told the Associated Press. He said he had no information on any casualties.
Neither official said how long the road might be closed.