KARACHI - While NATO and United States forces have downplayed raids in Peshawar
by pro-Taliban militants, destroying hundreds of their military vehicles and
supply containers destined for Afghanistan, analysts here believe that the
damage is significant.
On Saturday the militants destroyed 11 trucks and 13 containers in the latest
of a series of attacks over the past week designed to disrupt supply lines
to NATO and U.S. troops fighting the "war on terror" in Afghanistan
Saturday's raid defied increased security for some 13 supply terminals
around Peshawar, ordered after a major raid last weekend in which hundreds
of trucks and containers were torched.
After that raid, the U.S. military in Afghanistan had played down the damage
in a statement that said it would have only "minimal effect on our operations."
U.S. military spokeswoman in Kabul Lt. Col. Rumi Nielsen-Green was quoted saying,
"It's militarily insignificant."
But analysts here think otherwise and say that if the attacks continue they
will impact plans to double the strength of NATO troops in Afghanistan from
the present 67,000 nearly half of them from the U.S.
"More troops mean more supplies," said Ikram Sehgal, a noted defense
Sehgal does not buy the U.S. dismissal of the attacks as insignificant. "If
I'm hurt bad, I'm not going to own up. It is a significant loss whether they
[U.S.] admit it or not. It will create horrendous problems."
If troop deployment is increased as planned, then an estimated 70,000 containers
of supplies will have to be shipped to Afghanistan annually.
"If the supply lines are cut off, it will have a choking effect on the
troops," said Brig. Mehmood Shah, former home secretary of the Federally
Administered Tribal Area (FATA) that borders Afghanistan.
Already NATO has begun looking for alternative supply routes to Afghanistan,
even through Belarus and the Ukraine.
Contractors engaged in moving the containers are jittery at the possible loss
Kifayatullah Jan, manager at the Port World Logistics, a contractor that has
been ferrying NATO supplies, said last week's attack on their terminal,
in which 106 containers were torched, "must have cost the U.S. millions."
"And if the loss to the U.S. is insignificant, for us it may mean we
close shop," said Jan, talking to IPS from Peshawar over telephone. "We
can't do business if the government cannot provide us protection,"
he said. According to Jan, the company and its drivers receive regular threats
from militants to "stop transporting supplies to the Americans or face
In March, insurgents torched 40-50 NATO oil tankers near Torkham. In April,
a military helicopter valued at $13 million was hijacked. And in July, there
were sporadic attacks on the convoys. Last month, some 60 Taliban fighters
hijacked a convoy of trucks in broad daylight as it was traveling through the
Talk of alternative supply routes has been going on since September. According
to the Washington Post, the U.S. Defense Department was seeking safer
but longer routes through Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia due to "strikes,"
"border delays," and "accidents and pilferage" in Pakistan.
"The Iran route is out. And they simply cannot airlift the supplies because
it would be far too costly. But the supplies can come from the north,"
"The supplies can pass through the northern route by rail through Russia
and the Central Asian nations to northern Afghanistan," agreed Mehmood
Shah, but added: "It's a poor alternative and will take very long to reach
About 75 percent of supplies, including food, fuel, equipment, and vehicles
meant for the allied forces in Afghanistan pass through Pakistan's Khyber Pass,
after being offloaded from ships at the southern port city of Karachi. A second
overland route connects Pakistan's Quetta city with Kandahar in Afghanistan.
Pakistan represents the shortest land route to Afghan cities like Kandahar
In last week's attack on the Port World terminal, the security guards
on duty watched helplessly as around 300 militants blasted their way into two
transport terminals and torched vehicles.
"These included APC jeeps, trucks, lifters, and fire brigades,"
said Jan. "They came through the main gate, which they destroyed using
a rocket-propelled grenade, and set fire to 106 vehicles, including 80-90 Humvees.
They also shot dead one of the guards."
"I was in my village near Charsadda, less than a hour from Peshawar,
when the guards telephoned me around 3:15 a.m. There was no way the dozen or
so of our guards could confront the militants who were armed with sophisticated
weapons," Jan said.
According to Shah, the attackers were criminal elements and not necessarily
the Taliban, as the latter have still not entered the settled area. "However,
they all work hand-in-glove. And for all we know, they may have carried out
the attack at the behest of the Taliban."
However, Rahimullah Yusufzai, resident editor of English daily The News,
thinks otherwise. "These recent attacks show that militants are slowly
moving into the settled area; that they have gained strength and are not afraid,"
he said. "It also shows how weak the government is and that it cannot
Yusufzai told IPS that the earlier hijackings of convoys on the highways were
only possible if the drivers, and perhaps even the contractors, were in collusion
with the Taliban.
Terming these depots as "soft" targets, Sehgal said it is easier
to attack such passive locations than intercept convoys that are protected
by Pakistan's Frontier Constabulary (FC) militia.
While past attacks have been limited to pilfering and sale of the loot in
the local markets, the latest attacks were intended to disrupt supplies. "This
means they want to sever the supply lines to make it unsustainable for the
deployed forces," said Sehgal.
Yusufzai observed that the Taliban were adopting the age-old strategy of cutting
off supply lines from the south. "It also signifies that the capacity
and numbers of the militants have grown despite the army's claim of annihilating
entire villages in the tribal areas."
"This war on terror has unleashed more horrors than one can imagine.
The Pakistan army, by its own act, has steered civilians toward militancy.
In a bid to capture one Talib, entire villages have turned into Talibans,"
(Inter Press Service)