December 7, 2008 / 6:34 AM / 10 years ago

Pakistani militants destroy Western army vehicles

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani militants attacked a parked convoy of trucks carrying military vehicles for Western forces in Afghanistan near Peshawar early on Sunday, destroying 96 trucks, police said.

Security guards said they were overpowered by more than 200 militants who attacked two terminals on the ring road round the northwestern city of Peshawar, where the trucks carrying Humvees and other military vehicles were parked.

“It happened at around 2.30 a.m. They fired rockets, hurled hand grenades and then set ablaze 96 trucks,” senior police officer Azeem Khan told Reuters.

Most of the fuel and other supplies for U.S. and NATO forces in landlocked Afghanistan are trucked through Pakistan, much of it through the mountainous Khyber Pass between Peshawar, capital of North-West Frontier Province and the border town of Torkham.

Khan said one private security guard was killed in an exchange of fire between police and the militants.

“They were shouting Allah-o-Akbar (God is Great) and Down With America. They broke into the terminals after snatching our guns,” said Mohammad Rafiullah, security guard at one terminal.

Militants destroyed 22 trucks carrying food supplies in the same area a week ago.

Last month the government closed the main supply route to Western forces in Afghanistan for a week after militants hijacked more than a dozen trucks on the road through the Khyber Pass.

ISLAMIST MILITANTS IN KHYBER PASS

There have been signs this year that Islamist militancy has spread to the area from more distant tribal regions where the Taliban and al Qaeda have taken root.

Peshawar city police chief Safwat Ghayyur said the government planned to launch an operation against “miscreants” soon. “A plan of operation is in place as we have crafted a strategy in which we will have to go after them,” he said.

The other main land route to Afghanistan runs from the southwestern city of Quetta through the border town of Chaman to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

Pakistani forces are battling al Qaeda and Taliban militants in the northwest. The militants have retaliated with a campaign of suicide bombings, particularly against security forces in the ethnic Pashtun tribal regions on the Afghan border.

The violence has raised concern about nuclear-armed Pakistan’s stability as its eight-month-old civilian government is also grappling with an economic crisis.

Apart from the deteriorating security situation in the northwest, the government is trying to handle tension with India resulting from the militant attack that killed 171 people in Mumbai at the end of last month.

India and U.S. officials believe the attackers came from Pakistan, and New Delhi is demanding that Islamabad take action against their alleged backers.

Additional reporting by Junaid Khan and Kamran Haider; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Tim Pearce

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