Suspected Taliban militants in Pakistan overnight set fire to dozens of trucks that were carrying supplies for Western forces in Afghanistan, killing at least seven people.
Militants in Pakistan have routinely attacked convoys carrying supplies for U.S. and NATO-led forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
Usually, such attacks occur on remote routes between the port city of Karachi and the mountain passes that lead from Pakistan into Afghanistan. But last night's assault on the Tarnol depot in Rawalpindi -- a garrison city on the outskirts of Islamabad -- was unprecedented for its proximity to Pakistan's capital.
The depot is on the main road that connects Islamabad to the northwestern city of Peshawar. Many trucks use the route to get to the Khyber Pass -- one of the main routes used for carrying NATO supplies overland from Pakistan into Afghanistan.
Pakistani police official Gustasab Khan says seven people were killed by the attackers. He says the dead include drivers of the trucks, their helpers, and local residents.
Kalim Iman, the inspector-general of Islamabad police, says 10 to 12 attackers stormed the terminal and managed to set fire to rows of military vehicles and oil tankers. He says all of the attackers managed to escape.
Zia, a driver who was at the depot during the attack, told Reuters the militants were clearly targeting anyone they found behind the wheel of a vehicle that was carrying fuel or military supplies.
"While sitting inside my truck," Zia says, "I overheard [the attackers] say, 'Kill the drivers. Don't spare them. Torch the vehicles. Shoot every driver who tries to flee. Don't let anyone run off.'"
Authorities were unable to give a breakdown on the number of fuel tankers and containers that were destroyed at the sprawling depot, which is also used by local vehicles. But reports suggest some 50 vehicles were set ablaze amid the mayhem.
By dawn, twisted metal and scorched wreckage attested to the inferno that raged through much of the night.
Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, Pakistan's Taliban has claimed similar assaults in the past.
Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general who is now a security analyst, says the proximity of last night's violence to Islamabad reveals serious security lapses in Pakistan and throws into question how safe Islamabad itself is from militant attacks.
NATO officials say such attacks have more impact on morale than the alliance's logistics for the mission in Afghanistan. But Taliban attacks on Pakistan's overland supply routes have forced the alliance to expand its logistical network to include airfields and railways to the north of Afghanistan in former Soviet republics of Central Asia.
Still, the bulk of supplies and equipment required by the 130,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan are shipped overland through northwest Pakistan before reaching NATO supply depots. That includes about 75 percent of the U.S. military's supplies in Afghanistan and about 40 percent of the fuel for its troops. compiled from agency reports