Pakistani gunships pound militants to secure NATO supply routes

December 31st, 2008 - 10:09 pm ICT by IANS  

TalibanIslamabad, Dec 31 (DPA) Pakistani helicopter gunships Wednesday pounded militant hideouts in the country’s northwest as tanks rumbled in to secure the vital supply link for Western troops in landlocked Afghanistan.The operation was launched a day ago after Pakistani authorities suspended the shipment of supplies from restive Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province, to Torkham border crossing through the Khyber Pass.

“Three helicopters targeted several militant positions while ground troops backed by tanks made advances,” said Saddique Khan Afridi, an administration official in the Khyber tribal district.

“The security forces demolished 10 houses of collaborators who provided shelter to the Taliban. Sixteen supporters and seven militants surrendered,” he added.

Islamists insurgents have recently carried out dozens of attacks on caravans carrying fuel, equipments and other supplies for NATO troops in Afghanistan. More than 400 lorries and containers were torched or plundered this month, while three drivers killed.

According to the US State Department, up to 75 percent of its military supplies, including 40 percent of the fuel for its troops stationed in Afghanistan, goes through the Khyber Pass route.

Another land link from Pakistan to Afghanistan runs through the south-western town of Chaman. A spokesman for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Afghanistan welcomed the move by the Pakistani forces to ensure the safety of the vital supply route.

Fazal Mahmood, a senior official in the Khyber region’s district government, said the ongoing action would continue till the area was purged of militants.

He said security forces were not facing any stout resistance and most of the insurgents and militants fled to other areas in a bid to dodge the crackdown, perhaps to the neighbouring province of Mohmand, another sanctuary of fighters with the Islamist extremist Taliban and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

Daud Khan, a local journalist, said that the offensive would yield positive results if the government troops stayed after flushing out the militants from the vital region.

“If they move back to their barracks after announcing success, the Taliban will come back and launch fresh attacks on NATO trucks,” he added.

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