BBC News | 1 October 2010 | at 07:31 GMT
Suspected militants in southern Pakistan have destroyed at least 27 tankers carrying fuel for NATO forces in Afghanistan, officials said. There have been hundreds of similar attacks in Pakistan in recent years, but this is the first one in this part of the southern province of Sindh. It is not clear if it is linked to a cross-border air strike by NATO that killed three Pakistani troops. Pakistan has blocked supply routes to Afghanistan after Thursday’s air raid. No one has claimed responsibility for Friday morning’s raid in the town of Shikarpur, which is in the north of Sindh province.
The town’s district police chief, Abdul Hameed Khosa, told the BBC the oil tankers – which picked up their load from the southern port of Karachi – were parked in a petrol station at the time of the attack. Up to 15 gunmen opened fire to scare away the drivers, before torching the vehicles, said witnesses. Attacks on NATO supply convoys are rare in southern and central Pakistan, so security forces do not provide the escort that is routine in the north-west of the country.
While these tankers have been targeted a couple of times in Karachi, the capital of Sindh, such incidents have never occurred elsewhere in the province. The raids have mainly happened in the north-west, at Peshawar and the Khyber tribal region, or in the southwestern province of Balochistan. Following Thursday’s cross-border NATO helicopter attack, which killed three Pakistani soldiers, Islamabad ordered the closure of the Khyber Pass border crossing into Afghanistan.
NATO said its aircraft had hit back after coming under small-arms fire from what it thought were insurgents. But the Pakistani military said its soldiers had fired shots to warn the helicopters that they had crossed into Pakistani airspace. It was the third time in less than a week that NATO helicopters had pursued militants over the Pakistani border and fired on targets. Pakistani officials say they have shut the Torkham border crossing in Khyber tribal agency to ensure NATO vehicles are not attacked by the Taliban. A long queue of NATO vehicles is now waiting to drive over the border.
The other main NATO crossing from Pakistan to Afghanistan – Chaman in Balochistan – remains open. It is not clear whether the tanker convoy attacked on Friday was heading for Torkham or Chaman. NATO says the trucks passing through Pakistan carry fuel, military vehicles, spare parts, clothing and other non-lethal supplies for foreign troops in Afghanistan. The alliance and the US have other supply routes into Afghanistan, but the Pakistani ones are the cheapest and most convenient.