Pakistan arrests suspected planners of NATO attacks

PESHAWAR, Pakistan(Reuters) - Pakistani security forces arrested on Wednesday seven suspected al Qaeda militants believed to have planned attacks on trucks taking supplies to Western forces in Afghanistan, intelligence officials said.

The arrests were made in a pre-dawn raid on the house of an Afghan refugee on the outskirts of Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province.

“They were planners behind all the attacks on NATO supplies,” an intelligence official told Reuters on condition of anonymity

The attacks persuaded the United States and NATO to look for alternative routes, particularly as President Barack Obama is committed to boosting U.S. troops in Afghanistan this year.

Chief of the U.S. Central Command General David Petraeus said in Islamabad on Tuesday that agreements had been reached with Russia and Central Asian states for transit routes into northern Afghanistan.

The intelligence official said those arrested included four Arabs and three Afghans. A militant source told Reuters two Arabs and five Afghans were captured.

A resident of Bara Qadeem, the village where the raid took place, said he saw some “goras”, a term usually applied to white Westerners, observing the operation.

“They came in a black car with tinted glass, but did not take part in the operation,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear for his own safety.

Most supplies for U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan are trucked through the Khyber Pass near Peshawar to eastern Afghanistan but the route has been plagued by militant attacks in recent months.

Pakistan has closed the route twice during that time.

Pakistan’s ties with the United States have been strained by Washington’s refusal to halt drone aircraft missile attacks on militant targets in Pakistani tribal areas near the Afghan border.

Petraeus said supplies had generally been getting through Khyber, except for a couple of interruptions.

The supplies are shipped to the Pakistani port of Karachi and then trucked either through the Khyber Pass or through Pakistan’s Baluchistan province to the border town of Chaman and then on to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

The route through Chaman has been largely free of attacks on the Pakistani side, although the section passing through Afghanistan, from the border town of Spin Boldak to Kandahar, has seen more Taliban attacks.

Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore