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More than 160 NATO vehicles burned

world Updated: Dec 07, 2008 23:04 IST
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Gunmen blasted their way into two transport terminals in Pakistan on Sunday and torched more than 160 vehicles destined for US-led troops in Afghanistan, in the biggest assault yet on a vital military supply line, officials said. The US military said its losses in the raid near the northwestern city of Peshawar would have “minimal” impact on anti-Taliban operations, set to expand with the arrival of thousands more American troops next year.

However, the attack will fuel concern that insurgents are trying to choke the route through the famed Khyber Pass, which carries up to 70 percent of the supplies for Western forces in landlocked Afghanistan, and drive up the cost of the war.

The owner of one of the terminals hit Sunday denied government claims that security was boosted after a raid last month near the pass in which militants made off with one Humvee and later paraded it before journalists.

“We don’t feel safe here at all,” Kifayatullah Khan said next to the still-smouldering vehicles, predicting that most of his night watchmen would now quit their jobs out of fear. “It is almost impossible for us to continue with this business.”

The attack at the Portward Logistic Terminal reduced a section of the vast walled compound to a smouldering junkyard. Khan said armed men flattened the gate before dawn with a rocket-propelled grenade, fatally shot a guard and set fire to a total of 106 vehicles, including about 70 Humvees. Humvees are thought to cost about $100,000 each, though the price varies widely depending on armour and other equipment, meaning Sunday’s losses may exceed $10 million.

An Associated Press reporter who visited the depot saw six rows of destroyed Humvees and military trucks packed close together, some on flatbed trailers, all of them gutted and twisted by the flames. Khan said shipping documents showed they were destined for US forces and the Western-trained Afghan National Army. The attackers fled after a brief exchange of fire with police, who arrived about 40 minutes later, he said.