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Pakistan aims to recapture trucks stolen in Khyber
Tue Nov 11, 2008 6:44am EST
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By Ibrahim Shinwari
LANDIKOTAL, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani security forces aim to recapture trucks hijacked by militants as they were taking supplies to Western forces in Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass, a government official said Tuesday.
Most supplies, including fuel, for U.S. and other Western forces battling a Taliban insurgency in landlocked Afghanistan are trucked through neighboring Pakistan, which is also facing growing militant violence.
Pakistani Taliban militants hijacked 13 trucks without firing a shot as they passed through the Khyber Pass Monday. The gunmen later posed for photographs in front of two Humvee military vehicles and some of the trucks.
Security forces had blocked the main road from the northwestern city of Peshawar through the pass to the border at Torkham in preparation for a recovery operation, and army helicopters later attacked militants, government officials said.
"Two helicopter gunships went and hit militants' positions in the Malagori area but there's no report of casualties," said Bakhtiar Mohmand, a senior government administrator in the area.
Malagori is an area north of the Khyber Pass where militants have hideouts, he said.
"We have asked for foot soldiers and as soon as they get here, we'll launch a ground operation," he said.
The trucks were carrying two Humvees and wheat but no weapons or ammunition, another official said. The militants unloaded the trucks and abandoned them but held most of the drivers.
The Khyber region has long been notorious for smuggling and lawlessness, but until recently it was relatively free of Islamist militants.
But security has deteriorated this year and soldiers carried out a sweep in part of the Khyber region in June to push militants back from the outskirts of Peshawar.
Officials said the militants who seized the trucks were loyal to notorious Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud, who is based in the Waziristan region to the southwest of Khyber.
The militants posed for photographs with a banner over one of the Humvees proclaiming their membership of Mehsud's group.
Transport operators say the government has ignored security along the road. About two dozen trucks and oil-tankers have been attacked in the past month.
Torkham, at the top of the Khyber Pass, is one of only two main crossing points on the Afghan-Pakistani border. The other is at the town of Chaman, to the southwest, from where a road runs to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar. Continued...
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