Gunmen Attack Dozens Of NATO Trucks In Pakistan

In Pakistan, attackers set fire to two dozen more tanker trucks ferrying supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan. The latest attack occurred near the southern Chamran border crossing. The northern crossing at Torkham at the western end of the Khyber Pass remains closed to NATO traffic after NATO helicopter gunships killed Pakistani border guards last week. The U.S. apologized for that attack on Wednesday.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, Host:

And I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

P: Pakistan matters. Militants battle U.S. troops in Afghanistan, then retreat, rest and regroup in safe havens across the border.

But addressing the Pakistan problem has not been easy. Its government has proven unwilling or unable to crack down on these safe havens. That was the message last week in a White House assessment sent to congressional leaders.

SIEGEL: In a moment, we'll hear more about that assessment, as well as reports that Afghanistan's government has begun preliminary peace talks with the Taliban.

First, though, with Pakistan's government slow to challenge the Taliban and al- Qaida, the U.S. military has tried to take the fight across the border. In response, the Pakistani government closed one of two key crossings into Afghanistan. That has left hundreds of NATO trucks sitting idle on the Pakistani side of the border, unable to resupply troops in Afghanistan.

It's also made those trucks an easy target, as NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports.

ANTHONY KUHN: For the sixth time in the past week, unidentified assailants have attacked NATO supply convoys passing through Pakistan to Afghanistan. Attackers shot and killed one driver this morning before torching two dozen fuel tankers. The trucks were parked just outside the southwestern city of Quetta, a capital Balochistan province.

Akbar Durrani is Balochistan's home minister. He says local authorities could protect NATO's convoys, but NATO instead contracts the job out to private firms whose guards are often not even armed.

AKBAR DURRANI: Time and again, we have been asking to these contractors that if you cannot handle the situation, please get aside and let the Balochistan government to handle the situation.

KUHN: The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for most of the attacks. The militants say they'll keep on attacking until the convoys stop moving through Pakistan.

But some analysts doubt the Taliban are capable of such operations. Security analyst Hamid Mir says the attacks are mostly the work of criminal gangs.

HAMID MIR: They are only attacking NATO vehicles just for the business. This has become a business in Pakistan, and Tehrik-e-Taliban is only making claims just to establish that they are becoming very powerful in Pakistan.

KUHN: He says the loot from the NATO convoys is openly sold in markets in several cities.

Whoever's behind the attacks, they remind NATO that its supply routes are vulnerable and that Pakistanis are furious about NATO's recent cross-border incursions.

U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson today apologized for one recent NATO helicopter raid that killed two Pakistani soldiers in what she called a terrible accident.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Islamabad.

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