28 More US Fuel Trucks Set Ablaze in Pakistan, 6 Killed, as Convoy Boycott Continues

The Taliban Movement of Pakistan (Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan or TTP) claimed on Monday that it was responsible for yet another attack on NATO fuel trucks, this time near Islamabad. Some twenty trucks were set ablaze and 6 people were killed. The trucks were parked in a poorly guarded area near the capital, awaiting permission to cross into Afghanistan at Torkham, the Pakistani checkpoint at the Khyber Pass. Since Friday, Pakistan has closed the crossing to US and NATO military supply vehicles, as a way of protesting the attack last Thursday by US helicopter gunships flying from Afghanistan on a Pakistani checkpoint inside Pakistan, which killed and wounded Pakistani Frontier Corpsmen. A similar attack took place near Shikarpur in Sindh on Thursday night.

The closing of the Khyber crossing and the exposure of stalled NATO convoys to attacks by Muslim extremists has roiled Islamabad’s relations with Washington. The Pakistani government appears to have felt that it had no choice but to take some visible action against the US, given the public rage throughout the country over the US attack on the Pakistani checkpoint and US violations of Pakistani sovereignty.

Some 75 percent of supplies (food, ammunition, even military vehicles) and 50 percent of the fuel needed by US and NATO troops in Afghanistan flow from the Arabian Sea port of Karachi in Pakistan’s Sindh Province up highways to Peshawar and then across the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan. The convoys are being impeded not only by the closure to them of the crossing at Torkham but also by all the bridges and highways washed out by Pakistan’s recent massive flooding.

High US officers in Afghanistan are said to be furious about the Pakistani closure of the Khyber pass to their convoys. Some one hundred trucks are waiting at Torkham. After Monday’s attack on more fuel trucks, the officers must be even more angry.

Pakistan receives aid monies in recognition of its help with transiting supplies, and the American officers are reported by Pakistan’s “The News” daily to have threatened Islamabad with a cut-off of that aid if the boycott continues. They also are exploring other routes for resupply, including using the Latvia port of Riga to offload the cargo and then putting it on trains through Russia to Uzbekistan and thence Afghanistan. It would also be possible to ship from Russia through Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (the latter has a lively trade with Afghanistan, which it borders). A third route would be to ship through the Bosphorus Straits to the Black Sea, offloading at Georgia, going through the Russian Caucasus, and taking the goods across the Caspian to Kazakhstan and thence to Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. This route is costly and inconvenient since it would require loading and unloading the materiel several times, according to “The News.” It however points out that the Karachi-to-Khyber route is by far the shortest, least expensive and most convenient.

The Central Asian republics may also be reluctant to be drawn into the conflict by becoming transit points for US military goods, as “The News” says. The Taliban have already increased their attacks in Qunduz in the north in part to block Afghan trade with Tajikistan and to intercept the military goods already coming in via that route. Tajikistan suffered a civil war in the 1990s and would not be eager to return to violence by picking a fight with the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.

So the US may be done out with Pakistan, and vice versa, but as long as the US and NATO are fighting in Afghanistan, likely Pakistan is the indispensable country for them.

Even inside Afghanistan, convoys are often attacked or are guarded by a ragtag band of private companies, which President Hamid Karzai plans to get rid of, even though there is nothing to put in their place. They have been accused of demanding big bribes.

27 Responses

  1. “The Central Asian republics may also be reluctant to be drawn into the conflict by becoming transit points for US military goods, as “The News” says. The Taliban have already increased their attacks in Qunduz in the north in part to block Afghan trade with Tajikistan and to intercept the military goods already coming in via that route. Tajikistan suffered a civil war in the 1990s and would not be eager to return to violence by picking a fight with the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.”

    This is a fundamental misreading. Tajikistan clearly backed the Northern alliance against Mullah Omar, Al Qaeda, and their allies in the early 2000s. On September 12th, 2001, if I am not mistaken Tajikistan joined China, India, Russia and Iran in pledging its support to the Northern Alliance against the Taliban.

    If Mullah Omar, Haqqani, TTP, TNSM, LeT, Lashkar al Zil, IMU/IJU, et all ever manage to take Kunduz [extremely unlikely], they will almost certainly try to take out Tajikistan. Tajikistan knows this as does the entire region. All the 5 Stans and Russia strongly favor a GIRoA/ANSF victory over the Taliban.

    This said, they are glad to free ride off ISAF and the international community’s efforts to support the GIRoA and ANSF. However, if they seriously thought the ANSF and GIRoA were in danger of losing, they would likely try to help them more directly.

    Tajikistan probably is optimistic that the ANSF/GIRoA will be able to hold its own against the Taliban as of right now, especially in those parts of Afghanistan that Tajikistan cares about. No doubt this will come as a shock to some westerners.

    Juan, there is a perception among some in Pakistan that “their” Taliban will soon defeat the ANSF and GIRoA along with their ISAF allies. Many in the west have picked up this ISI narrative/propaganda. However, the perception in Afghanistan, Russia, Iran and India is different. The ANSF [especially the ANA, ANCOP, and NDS] remain optimistic that they will win this war in most of Afghanistan [they appear willing to temporarily cede portions of the south and smaller pockets of the east to the Taliban while they fight for the rest of the country in the short run.] I don’t think the ANSF commanding generals and enlisted soldiers/policeman understand the degree to which the ISI narrative that the Taliban is defeating the ANSF has started to permeate western media.

    For now the Stans and Russia appear confident that Northern Afghanistan will hold. The Taliban in the North [which isn’t Mullah Omar centric QST and is heavily foreign] has yet to prove its ability to take on 209th ANA Corps at a company level [company being about 100-250 troops.] 209th ANA Corps will have 11 combat infantry battalions within 3 months to hold the line in the top 9 provinces. Plus at long last Afghan MoI is actually authorizing the 9 northern provinces to hire police officers [versus reassigning Northern Police to the South.]

    The total ANSF combat power in the North is trippling. Even with a large surge in international Taliban fighters, it is hard to see how the Taliban doesn’t suffer some serious losses in the North.

    Supply Route:

    Think the Stans and Russia are working the supply route for ISAF/GIRoA pretty hard. They would rather the supply route went through the North than through Pakistan. Don’t need to remind you Juan about the extent of paranoia that Russia and the 5 stans have regarding Pakistan and their belief that parts of the Pakistani security establishments back the Taliban.

    • Anan – please , not every reader is as informed about details as you are .
      Spare us the alphabet soup . Use full names , not acronyms .
      Otherwise , your comment is incomprehensible , and flaunting one’s knowledge is a bit rude . Thank you .

      • Ted, what acronyms do you want clarified? You can google them.
        ANA = Afghan National Army
        GIRoA = Government Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
        ANSF = Afghan National Security Forces
        QST = Quetta Shura Taliban
        MoI = Ministry of Interior
        ISI = Inter Service Intelligence
        209th ANA Corps is responsible for the Northern 9 provinces
        LeT = Lashkar e Toyba

        Lashkar al Zil = Iyas Kashmiri’s people. Including his famous Brigade 313 that fought with such distinction in Kashmir in the 1990s. Also including Brigade 095 [Osama Bin Laden’s original at one time mostly Arab brigade from the 1990s . . . i.e. the original Al Qaeda], and other formation. It is Iyas Kashmiri’s Lashkar al Zil and Brigade 095 that are suppose to have routed an entire experienced 1-201 ANA Corps combat infantry battalion in Laghman recently. Which is extremely difficult to do.
        IMU = Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IJU = Islamic Jihad Union of Uzbekistan.
        TTP = Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan
        TNSM = Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi

        It is extremely easy to google all of this. No intent to flaunt. No intent to offend you.

        • anan – thanks for the clarifications .
          No offense taken – I was only asking that readers’ ignorance be thought of .
          Having to Google acronyms is like reading a paper where the footnotes are in a different book – it’s tedious .
          Also , I followed your suggestion , and tried to learn about the IMU .
          ( a random pick )
          Google wants me to learn about Inertial Measurement Unit , or some Marketing University .
          All I ask is that authors consider their audience .

    • “If Mullah Omar, Haqqani, TTP, TNSM, LeT, Lashkar al Zil, IMU/IJU, et all ever manage to take Kunduz [extremely unlikely], they will almost certainly try to take out Tajikistan.”

      The Taliban has never been interested in wars of conquest. They only want to expel the foreign invaders.

      Feeble attempt at propaganda.

      • Rahman Hyder, looks like ISI propaganda has colonized your mind.

        Remember Mullah Omar’s role in Chechnya? Remember that Russia nearly invaded Afghanistan in 1999 and 2001, before 9/11? Since 9/11 violence in Chechnya, and against Russia has dropped sharply. Why?

        Musharraf just publicly acknowledged his support for AQ and Taliban linked groups in Kashmir. After 9/11 violence in Kashmir fell 90%. Why?

        Why has extremist Taliban and AQ linked violence against Shiites and Iranians dropped after 9/11?

        Taliban is a motley collection of 50 groups. Some care only about their own specific subregion [not even caring about large Afghan cities.] Others care about global jihad. Have you ever read Siraj Haqqani’s actual statements? Do you really believe that his ambitions do not extend to Sweden, Canada, New Delhi, Chechnya, Quom and Southern Thailand? :LOL:

        The 140 thousand patriotic Afghans in the ANA are not foreign invaders. 42% of them are Pashtun. Why are the Taliban trying to kill them? Why are the Taliban trying to kill 119 K ANP?

        Musharraf just explained that Pakistan needed to back Siraj, Haqqani and Mullah Omar if ISAF abondons the GIRoA and ANSF; as he seems to be implying they might.

        link to spiegel.de

        Do you think Afghans like having a bunch of internationally backed Hicks [yup Taliban and company] ruling them?

        • Anan…

          Your simplified worldview and your faliure to understand the potence of a guerilla movment like the Taliban clouds your judgement. You come up with lots of your own wishful thinking and try to make it trustworthy by throwing in unsubstantiated claims about the capacity of this or that division from this or that security force.

          Fact of the matter is that most ANSF suffer from high degrees of desertion, lack of capacity, lack of motivation other than the next paycheck, lack of training, lack of even litteracy. Yet you portray them as on the verge of success. Ignorant, or willfully ignorant? I can’t tell with you.

        • watchdog, “Your simplified worldview and your faliure to understand the potence of a guerilla movment like the Taliban clouds your judgement.” I would suggest you get Afghan perspectives about the Taliban and ANA. Ask them which do they support.

          Even ask Afghan villagers from Helmand this question. The answer might surprise you.

          Afghans are sophisticated people and capable of holding several ideas simultaneously. :-) Yes, even pro Taliban sourthern Pashtun Afghans think the ISI and Saudis back the Taliban. And even they are a little uneasy about it.

          It is widely believed by Afghans that ISAF secretly backs the Taliban against the GIRoA and ANSF. This believes drives a lot of resentment against ISAF on the part of the GIRoA, ANSF, and Afghan public. Keep in mind that Afghans who dislike ISAF generally dislike the Taliban as well and blame ISAF for backing the Taliban.

          “Fact of the matter is that most ANSF suffer from high degrees of desertion,” Have the latest attrition numbers for the ANSF. They are comparable to western levels. If you would like this data, please e-mail Juan Cole and ask him to connect us.

          Thinking of summarizing attrition numbers of the ANSF in an article.

          One broad data point for now. ANP attrition rate = 16%. That includes wounded/killed + those who choose not to reenlist + AWOL.

          This is a remarkably low number considering the intensity of the fight the ANP is in. The ANP lost about two thousand dead in 2009.

          “lack of capacity,” Would need a series of articles to summarize this. ANSF vary substantially in quality by unit. Good units include:
          ANA Special Forces
          9 ANA Commando combat battalions
          203rd ANA Corps with 3 Bde HQs and 11 combat infantry battalions [each planned to have 4 combat infantry companies] in Loya Paktia and Ghazni
          3-111 Heavy Mech Bde [Greek/French mentored] in Kapisha.
          3-215 Brigade in Helmand
          1-209 Brigade in the North
          21 ANCOP combat battalions [elite national police]
          Khost AUP = Afghan Uniformed Police
          Kabul AUP
          “lack of motivation other than the next paycheck” :LOL: Varies greatly by unit. Would you say this about the ANA commando combat battalions that have a 1% AWOL rate?

          “lack of training, lack of even litteracy.” This part is true. The international community refused to train and provide literacy to the ANSF in a meaningful way before December, 2009.

          Do you track the ANSF? What is the source for your pessimism?

  2. The article also mentions a sharp escalation in guerilla attacks against supply convoys in September (almost 1 a day). This is clearly a new strategy aimed at exploiting NATO’s weakness (it’s over reliance on huge quantities of sophisticated supplies). NATO is not going to be able to counter this strategy effectively. If NATO starts using new supply routes this will greatly increase transportation costs and transit times for vital supplies. In addition, all of those alternate supply routes are vulnerable to attack by small groups of insurgents. Even if the Pakistani military was capable of providing direct protection for the supply convoys (as NATO no doubt wants it to) it would not be able to prevent the attacks (it only takes a few bullets fired into a fuel tanker to destroy it). Further, NATO itself is not capable of protecting the supplies once they enter Afghanistan. Given the increase in attacks on convoys, it seems likely that one reason for the recent NATO incursions into Pakistani territory was to put pressure on Pakistan to provide more protection for the convoys and to target insurgents NATO believed might be targeting the convoys. Of course, as any one with any common sense could predict, the tactic backfired and the supply route is now likely to be targeted even more frequently by insurgents.

  3. I am struggling to understand why Pakistan should be involved in the US occupation in Afghanistan. That would be like Canada supporting a Russian occupation of the US. Of course, American rage would be directed toward BOTH Russia AND Canada.

    • So as to make sure they have a say in the future course for Afghanistan. Their main worry is that Afghanistan beccomes a stable nation allied with their arch enemy India. Also, they were pretty much told after 9/11 that “either you suppport us or we bomb you back to the stone age”. They know full well that the US still wields the by far most potent military force on earth and they do not want its crosshairs on themselves.

  4. Of course there is always Iran which I am sure would be prepared to allow fuel for NATO and the US to transit its territory ifg it was part of a “grand bargain”. But then the Israeli lobby might throw a tantrum!

  5. I see the fuel truck attacks and the convoy boycott as just a temporary story. Pakistan will drop the boycott within another few days and the US will continue pouring money into Pakistan in return.

    I think the bigger story will be what is going on within Pakistan. How will Zardari hold onto power despite his unpopularity? Is Kayani planning a coup as even Musharraf is warning?

    link to indianexpress.com

    And what does the US think of General Kayani since the Woodward book implies that the Obama Admin thinks he is a “closet Jihadist and a liar”.

  6. While looking for information about Torkham I found this info in Wikipedia about Nangarhar Province where Torkham is located:
    “Once a major center of opium poppy production in Afghanistan, the province had reportedly decreased its production of poppy by up to 95% in 2005, one of the success stories of the Afghan eradication program. However, the eradication program has often left peasant farmers destitute and, in 2006, farmers were reported to have surrendered their children to opium dealers in payment on their debts.”
    This is an example of how a successful conclusion (?) to a campaign by one group of people is a death sentence to others. The consequences for the “successful” group in the future will not be pleasant.

  7. I’m rather surprised it took so long for concerted attacks against NATO’s supply trains through Pakistan to occur, and I expect them to escalate even if the Khyber crossing is reopened: War material transiting Pakistan is used against Pakistan once it reaches Afhgnaistan, as any Pakistani can see. The material casualties suffered by key components of the supply train’s rolling stock is also a serious matter; the loss of several hundred lorry tractors and tanker trailers in the space of a month would create havoc, not just at the front, but at supply bases as they become chocked by material that can’t be moved out quickly enough due to the lack of vehicles. This causes overwhelmed supply bases to become jucier targets as they cannot be defended as well. NATO thus made a grave error when it spread the war to Pakistan–it created an insurgency in its rear where none had existed. If NATO tries to clear the insurgency from its rear alone, it will just act to increase it as doing so means escalating its war against Pakistan.

  8. What about Iran route? That would seem to me as the most cost effective and shortest given its proximity to the gulf with high concentration of US troops. US did get significant logistical and intelligence support from the Iranians after 911 even though that gesture was not returned in kind. All it needs to do is to set aside its pride and ask. You never know what it may lead to….. After all, Taliban and Iranians are avowed enemies

    • In a short term and isolated perspective this may be so. But in a geo-strategic longer term perspective it doesn’t hold. The US doesn’t WANT the help of Iran or to in any way be seen as legitimising the Iranian regime. Even if it would be helpful right now. Remember the Neocon “joke” : “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad, real men wants to go to Teheran”. This still stands, but has been postponed due to lack of momentary capacity.

  9. I think the ultimate issue is for Pakistan to actually demonstrate to the rest of the world that it understands the meaning of State Sovereignty. Classically that means those with state authority control policy and in particular the use of any armed force in the service of that policy. Pakistan has had, since independence, a dual track. On one hand, a quite large military, on the other various tribal forces that seemingly are not in service to the state, but in fact can be used, through things like ISI to run policy quite independent of declared formal efforts. It was the strategy used in Kashmir in 1947-48, and I suggest what is going on now is just an evolution of the strategy.

    Ultimately, Pakistan has to solve the problem. It will never be able to settle anything with neighbors, India, Iran, the Stans, or many other parts of the world until it finds the means to establish State Soverignty over all its territory and the Pakistani Citizens who live there.

    Yes, It was convenient during the 80’s that the US and others could assist those who used the tribal people and borderlands for the anti-Soviet efforts. And US use of it sadly reinforced the notion the dual track strategy was passable and acceptable as a way to do normal international work. Our problem is that we have not talked in depth about the implications of all that. So now we have “blowback” and all the costs in human and material terms, and Pakistani Leadership fails to develop toward something that can actually provide for services to their benighted poor people.

  10. That the US’s supply lines to ‘our troops’ (the same troops US politicians and war enthusiasts are so busy claiming they ‘support’) have been severed and the troops are no longer being ‘supported’ with supplies is a very major story. How is it that this major news hardly rates more than an occasional story in the US media. Why is that?

    Which raises the basic question: How fast do troops, especially expensive, resource demanding troops like the US fields, start running out of basic supplies, not just munitions and fuel but other basics including rations, replacement parts, medical supplies, etc.

    the answer: Not long.

    How many days has it been now that the US hasn’t been supplying its resource needy troops? How many days until rations and toilet paper and motor oil are in short supply?

    In VN I was with a unit detailed to guard a bridge used by the only route to supply a single US division. After it was blown up one night by a single 14 year old sapper and even with US engineers quickly deployed to build a replacement pontoon bridge the supply line was disrupted for several days forcing the division to make reductions in basics. When the substitute bridge was in operation less than, three days later, over a thousand trucks were backed up and waiting to cross the new bridge.

    How many trucks are now backed up at the border carrying other supplies besides the fuel that has been going up in flames? And how is it with the troops as the toilet paper starts to disappear and everyone has been switched to canned meals.

    Also, Juan, do you really believe that an alternative route through Russia would be up and running in a timely manner, if ever? Lets get real.

    • As a matter of fact, the Northern Supply Network is up and running and being upgraded in capacity and speed all the time. NATO will strive to keep both the Northern and Southern routes open to minimise the dangers of a significant portion of their armies being cut off and also to cut down on the political leverage which the not particularly reliable transit countries can exercise.

  11. How else can the Taliban keep fighting if the supply line doesn’t go through Pakistan? The ISI and large elements of the Pakistani government helped set up the Taliban and that country continues to harbour them. The Taliban don’t have foundries/ factories to make the munitions and weapons they fight with. The illegal trade in arms and even the hijacking (sorry I lost 600 rocket launchers) if stopped at the point of production and sale would have meant this war would have been over long ago.

  12. Great idea for Uncle Scam’s military complex–use Drones as cargo planes.If they work as good in killings–could just be right to transport anything–even Obama and his Kosher Crew of Pirates

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