LANDIKOTAL, Pakistan (Reuters) - Militants in northwest Pakistan hijacked 13 trucks carrying supplies for Western forces in Afghanistan on Monday as they passed through the Khyber Pass, a government official said.
Most supplies, including fuel, for U.S. and other Western forces battling a Taliban insurgency in landlocked Afghanistan are trucked through neighboring Pakistan, which is also facing growing militant violence.
Security along the road leading to the border has deteriorated this year and soldiers carried out a sweep in part of the Khyber region in June to push militants back from the outskirts of Peshawar, the main city in the northwest.
The trucks were seized at four places along a 35 km (20 mile) stretch of the road, said a senior government administrator in the Khyber region.
“About 60 masked gunmen popped up on the road and took away the trucks with their drivers. Not a single shot was fired anywhere,” the official, Bakhtiar Mohmand, told Reuters.
Mohmand said the trucks were not carrying weapons or ammunition but he was not sure what goods they were taking.
He said he believed militants loyal to Pashtun Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud were responsible.
“Baitullah’s men are behind this as they’re very well-equiped and trained,” he said.
Residents said two Pakistani army helicopter gunships flew over the area after the trucks were hijacked and carried out some firing, killing a civilian.
In Landikotal, the main town before the pass, traders and transport company operators complained that the government wasn’t taking security on the road seriously.
“The government is a silent spectator. They attack our trucks, loot them and kill our drivers in broad daylight, even near security checkposts, but they can’t do anything,” said Eshtiar Mohmand, who owns a trucking company.
About two dozen trucks and oil-tankers have been attacked in the past month, transport operators said.
Many goods for Western forces in Afghanistan are shipped into the Pakistani port of Karachi and trucked through one of two crossings points on the border: Torkham, at the top of the Khyber Pass, or at the town of Chaman, to the southwest.
Writing by Kamran Haider; Editing by Robert Birsel and Valerie Lee
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