Suspected militants attacked trucks ferrying vehicles for Western troops in Afghanistan early Wednesday outside Pakistan's capital, a bold assault that killed seven people, police and witnesses said.
The attack near Islamabad followed clashes between the Pakistani military and insurgents in the northwest tribal belt bordering Afghanistan that killed 54 people, including eight soldiers, officials said.
The assaults underscored the immense challenge facing Islamabad as it cracks down on insurgent havens the US views as a threat to Pakistani stability and to the war effort in Afghanistan. Militants and ordinary criminals have often attacked NATO and US supply convoys over the past two years, but Wednesday's strike was the first so close to the well-protected capital, something likely to cause particular unease. Much of the fuel and supplies for Western troops in Afghanistan travel through Pakistan after arriving in the port city of Karachi.
An Associated Press photographer saw around 20 containers on fire at a truck depot on the main road leading to the border with Afghanistan, about six miles (10 kilometers) from Islamabad. Many carried military vehicles such as Humvees.
A group of around 15 suspected militants first opened fire with automatic weapons and grenades before torching the trucks, police officer Kalim Imam said. Police official Shah Nawaz said Wednesday afternoon that seven people died. Their identities were not known, but they were believed to be Pakistanis employed as drivers or assistants. Seven people were also wounded.
US Embassy spokesman Rick Snelsire declined to comment, but said American officials were investigating reports that NATO supplies were involved.
The convoy attacks have added impetus to American efforts to open new supply lines into Afghanistan, but commanders say they have not affected operations there. Guns, bombs and ammunition are not believed to be transported in the trucks, thousands of which make the journey each week.
Late Tuesday, dozens of militants attacked a security convoy in Orakzai, a tribal area near Afghanistan where Pakistan declared the Taliban defeated earlier this month, sparking a battle that killed six soldiers and 40 militants, government administrator Samiullah Khan said.
It was the latest in several cases where the military has declared a region free of militants, only to see more fighting. Also Wednesday, government official Maqsood Khan said militants attacked two security checkpoints in Mohmand, another part of the tribal belt that has endured army operations. The overnight attack sparked gunbattles that killed two soldiers and six insurgents and wounded several from both sides.
Information from the tribal areas is nearly impossible to verify independently because they are remote and dangerous, and access is severely restricted.