JAMRUD // Pakistan suspended supplies going to foreign forces in Afghanistan today as security forces launched an offensive against militants in the Khyber Pass region, a government official said. Militants have launched a string of attacks in recent months aimed at choking off supplies trucked to foreign forces in landlocked Afghanistan through north-west Pakistan from the port of Karachi. Khyber's top administrator, Tariq Hayat, said a curfew had been imposed and the main road leading to the Afghan border had been sealed.
"Supplies to Nato forces will remain suspended until we clear the area of militants and outlaws who have gone out of control," he said. Mr Hayat said security forces, backed by helicopter gunships, artillery and tanks, began an offensive early today. "Our targets are very clear and specific. We're after them and will try our best to avoid civilian losses," he said.
The Khyber Pass runs between the north-western city of Peshawar and the border town of Torkham and is a vital supply line for more than 65,000 Western troops battling the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. The US military sends 75 per cent of supplies for the Afghan war through or over Pakistan, including 40 per cent of the fuel for its troops, according to the US Defence Department. The supply route is likely to become even more important as the United States increases the number of its troops in Afghanistan, perhaps doubling the number to about 60,000 next year.
Mr Hayat declined to say how many soldiers were involved in the operation but said they came from both the army and a paramilitary force. The offensive comes as tension with old rival India is running high after last month's militant attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai. The Pakistani military has moved some troops off its western border, where security forces have been fighting militants in several places, in response to the tension.
Mr Hayat said he had no information about casualties in the fighting but residents of the area, contacted by telephone, said there had been several casualties including one soldier who was wounded. Hundreds of lorries have been destroyed and several drivers have been killed over the past month and many truckers have stopped taking supplies along the route. The violence has exposed the vulnerability of the routes and forced Nato to look for alternatives, including through Central Asia into northern Afghanistan.
There are two routes into Afghanistan from the Pakistani port of Karachi, one through the Khyber Pass and the other through the town of Chaman to the south-west, leading to the Afghan city of Kandahar. Mr Hayat said ethnic Pashtun tribesmen in the region had been warned not to shelter militants. "It's very clear that we won't spare protectors or anyone who tries to give them shelter. We want to get rid of them and we mean business this time," he said.