Saturday 7 December 2019

Pakistan closes NATO supply route after deadly US attack

Three soldiers killed as helicopter raid strays across border

Ben Farmer in Kabul and Rob Crilly in Islamabad

Pakistan blocked a vital supply route to Nato troops fighting in Afghanistan yesterday in retaliation for a cross-border American helicopter raid that killed three Pakistani soldiers.

The attack was the fourth skirmish along the Afghan-Pakistan border this week and followed an unprecedented number of drone missile strikes into the tribal regions that had already inflamed anti-American feeling.

Hours after the raid, Pakistani officials closed the main Torkham border crossing to the hundreds of Nato supply lorries travelling daily into Afghanistan.

Pakistan said it would "protect its sovereignty in all circumstances".

Rehman Malik, the interior minister, added: "We will have to see whether we are allies or enemies."

The US has intensified its war on militants acting inside Pakistan after apparently becoming frustrated with Islamabad's refusal to target them.

Publicly, Islamabad decries US violations of its sovereignty, but the country is heavily reliant on aid from Washington.

The Pakistani military said Thursday's air strike at 5.30am targeted a border checkpoint 200 yards inside Pakistan in the Upper Kurram tribal area, where six soldiers of the paramilitary Frontier Corps were stationed.

The troops fired warning shots at the two helicopter gunships "after they appeared to have crossed the border".

The helicopters fired missiles back, killing three and wounding the others.

Nato forces conveyed "sincere condolences" to the families of the dead, but said they had acted in self-defence.

A spokesman in Kabul said troops had spotted what they believed was a group of insurgents setting up mortars to fire on a Nato coalition base in the border area of Dand Patan district, Paktia province.

Helicopter gunships fired on the men, who were in Afghanistan, and the aircraft strayed into Pakistan's airspace.

An investigation was under way, the spokesman said.

A lengthy closure of the Torkham crossing to Nato traffic would strain supply routes into Afghanistan.

Up to three quarters of Nato supplies, including food and fuel, pass through the post through the Khyber Pass from the sea port at Karachi.

The vulnerability of the route, which is frequently attacked and looted by militants, has driven Nato commanders to try to shift to a northern route through Russia and central Asia.

By late last night, a queue of more than 150 lorries and oil tankers had formed at the post. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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