Pakistan Reopens Afghan Border Crossing NATO Uses

By Associated Press

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Pakistan reopened a key border crossing to NATO supply convoys heading into Afghanistan on Sunday, ending an 11-day blockade imposed after a U.S. helicopter strike killed two Pakistani soldiers.

The closing of the Torkham crossing to NATO vehicles stranded many fuel tankers at parking lots and on highways where they were vulnerable to militant attacks. More than 150 trucks were destroyed and some drivers and police were wounded in the near-daily attacks.

The reopening of the northwest crossing came four days after the U.S. apologized for the Sept. 30 helicopter attack, saying the pilots mistook the soldiers for insurgents being pursuing across the border from Afghanistan.

“I am very happy that our difficult days have finally ended and we are through now,” driver Khan Rehman told The Associated Press minutes before he drove the first truck into Afghanistan just after noon. “I am thankful to the government of Pakistan for ending our hardship.”

By early afternoon, around 10 vehicles had crossed into Afghanistan through Torkham and authorities were working to clear hundreds that had been stranded for days, said customs official Ataur Rehman.

“We have cleared a bunch of oil tankers and containers after customs formalities, and the first few vehicles have already crossed the border,” said Rehman.

Pakistan is a key supply route for fuel, military vehicles, spare parts, clothing and other non-lethal supplies for foreign troops in landlocked Afghanistan — although NATO has reduced its reliance on the country by using Central Asian routes to the north. NATO now ships about 40 percent of its non-lethal supplies through Pakistan, down from 80 percent at its peak.

NATO officials have said the Torkham closure did not affect its ability to keep troops supplied because hundreds of trucks still crossed into Afghanistan every day through Central Asia and one border crossing in Pakistan’s southwest that remained open.

But the blockade raised tensions with Pakistan, with which Washington has a close but often troubled alliance. The U.S. accuses Pakistan of being unwilling to go after Afghan Taliban militants in its territory with whom it has strong historical ties and who generally focus their attacks on Western troops rather than Pakistani targets.

The U.S. has responded to Pakistan’s position by dramatically increasing the number of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal belt, including two Sunday in North Waziristan that killed eight people — the ninth and tenth missile strikes this month.

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