Saeed Shah in Islamabad, Richard Norton-Taylor, Simon Tisdall and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Monday December 8 2008 13.15 GMT
Gunmen from the Pakistani Taliban torched supplies destined for Nato forces in Afghanistan for a second day running today, officials said.
The militants struck a container terminal on the outskirts of Peshawar, in north-west Pakistan, just over a mile from yesterday's attack, in which gunmen torched more than 100 trucks.
About 50 containers were destroyed in today's assault, which again targeted the main route for supplies to troops in land-locked Afghanistan from Pakistan.
"The militants came just past midnight, firing in the air, sprinkled petrol on containers and then set them on fire," Mohammad Zaman, a security guard at the terminal on the Peshawar ring road, told Reuters.
"They told us they would not harm us, but they asked us not to work for the Americans."
Militants fired rockets at two trucks carrying supplies for Nato forces as they drove along the ring road overnight.
Yesterday's attack was the biggest yet on Nato supplies going into Afghanistan.
Security guards at two depots in Peshawar were outnumbered by more than 200 militants at around 3am. About 70 Humvees loaded on some of the trucks were destroyed. Most of the vehicles were reduced to charred hulks of metal. "They fired rockets, hurled hand grenades and then set ablaze 96 trucks," said a senior police officer in Peshawar, Azeem Khan.
The attacks came as the Taliban chief, Mullah Mohammed Omar, urged western forces to leave Afghanistan before thousands of their troops were killed in the Islamist group's renewed insurgency.
Omar, believed to be hiding in the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan, said in an email statement: "I would like to remind the illegal invaders who have invaded our defenceless and oppressed people that it is a golden opportunity for you at present to hammer out an exit strategy for your forces. The current armed clashes which now number into tens will spiral up to hundreds of armed clashes. Your current casualties of hundreds will jack up into the thousands."
The Taliban has a permanent presence in 72% of the territory of Afghanistan, up from 54% last year, and is expanding its control beyond the rural south of the country, the International Council on Security and Development, formerly the Senlis Council, said in a report today.
The independent thinktank and research organisation said three of the four main routes leading out of Kabul, the capital, were threatened by the Taliban.
Most of the additional American troops arriving in Afghanistan early next year would be deployed near Kabul, the New York Times reported yesterday, citing American military commanders.
The Pakistani Taliban have begun to focus increasingly on choking off the supply path through Pakistan, which is used to take more than 70% of military equipment, food, fuel and other vital provisions to western soldiers across the border.
Supplies are trucked hundreds of miles from the port at Karachi across Pakistan to Peshawar, and then onward to Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass.
A security guard at one of the depots said 13 of them had been trying to hold out against the militants yesterday; they had been forced to give up after about half an hour. One security guard was killed in the shoot-out.
Another guard, Mohammad Rafiullah, said: "They were shouting 'Allahu Akbar' [God is greatest] and 'Down With America'. They broke into the terminals after snatching our guns."
Security was supposed to have been tightened after a Nato convoy passing through the Khyber Pass was recently ransacked. Television pictures have subsequently shown Taliban guerrillas in Pakistan's lawless tribal area driving around in Humvees looted from that assault.
"We don't feel safe here at all," said Kifayatullah Khan, a depot manager, who predicted that most of the guards would now quit out of fear. "It is almost impossible for us to continue with this business."
The US military in Afghanistan said its loss from yesterday's attack would have "minimal effect on our operations".
It was revealed at the weekend that much of the $10bn (£6.8bn) in American military aid given to Pakistan over the past 10 years - to maximise its contribution to the so-called war on terror - had been wasted or used to boost the Pakistani armed forces in their ongoing standoff with India.
The admission comes as a series of top-level reviews of US policy towards Pakistan and Afghanistan near completion. Officials say the reassessments, containing new policy options, are intended to ensure the president-elect, Barack Obama, "hits the ground running" when he takes office next month.
"We've gone seven long years proclaiming that Pakistan was an ally and that it was doing everything we asked in the war on terror," a senior official involved in drafting the review told the New York Times yesterday. "And the truth is that $10bn later, they still don't have the basic capacity for counterinsurgency operations. What we are telling Obama and his people is that has to be reversed."
The Khyber Pass area is being targeted by a newly emerged commander called Hakimullah Mehsud, who is a deputy of the feared Baitullah Mehsud, the militant who leads Pakistan's main Taliban faction. Hakimullah, who is based in another part of the tribal area called Orakzai, has started to hold press conferences to trumpet his successes. His men use stolen Humvees.
Hakimullah Mehsud said in a recent TV interview that he was opposed to the Pakistani authorities, as well as western troops. "We are at war with those who support Nato forces," he said.
There are few other options for Nato supplies. Iran also borders Afghanistan and has ports that could service it but this would be politically unpalatable. A long, cumbersome route via Russia and the central Asian states is a possibility but Russia has shown reluctance to help.
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In: Iran, Afghanistan, Middle East
Tags: taleban, al qaida, islam, burn, terror, us, supply, torched, pakistan, afghanistan,
Location: Peshawar, North-West Frontier, Pakistan (load item map)
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