BBC News | 6 October 2010 | 09:13 GMT
Gunmen in Pakistan have torched at least 10 oil tankers carrying fuel for NATO vehicles in Afghanistan in the latest such attack in recent days. A driver died in the ambush near the southwestern city of Quetta. The number of attacks on tankers has soared in the last week since one of the main routes into Afghanistan was shut by the Pakistani authorities.
The Torkham crossing was closed after three Pakistani soldiers died in a NATO air strike near the Afghan border. Islamabad has not yet said when the Khyber Pass crossing will reopen. In Wednesday morning’s attack, up to 14 gunmen in two pick-up trucks opened fire on the tankers as they were parked by the roadside on the outskirts of Quetta, said police.
BBC Urdu’s Ayub Tareen rushed to the scene after the ambush and was lucky to escape with scratches when one of the blazing fuel tankers exploded. The Lorries were thought to have been en route to a smaller border crossing into Afghanistan that still remains open.
The Pakistani Taliban reportedly said they carried out the ambush – the fourth attack on a NATO supply convoy in six days. Spokesperson Azam Tariq told the news agency AFP: "We will further intensify attacks with the intensification of US drone strikes on us." Unmanned aircraft have recently been targeting militants near the Afghan border on an almost daily basis.
Quetta’s chief of police operations, Hamid Shakeel said, "Gunmen came in two vehicles at daybreak and started firing. This created a stampede and people started running. "Then one of the vehicles went [inside the compound] and they sprinkled petrol on trucks and set them on fire." Mr Shakeel said that security for the trucks was the responsibility of local police while the vehicles were moving. But when they are parked at terminals, protection is the job of private contractors, he added.
On Tuesday, a bomb damaged an oil tanker in the Khyber tribal region. And on Friday, nearly 30 NATO supply Lorries were set on fire in the southern province of Sindh. Meanwhile, Pakistani and NATO investigators are expected to release a joint statement later on Wednesday, in the Afghan capital Kabul about the investigation into the NATO cross-border helicopter attack, which prompted the closure of the Torkham crossing.
Pakistan’s Dawn television reports that the statement has been delayed, because of differences over its wording. The shutting of the border post has strained relations between Pakistan and the US. NATO said on Monday its operations had been unaffected so far by the attacks, but that it was "beginning to explore other options". Supplies can also be brought into northern Afghanistan via Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
Pakistan’s other main crossing used by Nato into Afghanistan – Chaman in Balochistan – remains open, but this is not as convenient for supplies bound for Kabul. NATO says the trucks passing through Pakistan carry fuel, military vehicles, spare parts, clothing and other non-lethal supplies for foreign troops in Afghanistan.