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Afghan Force Supplies Face Pakistani Disruption

Pakistani police guard trucks carrying NATO supplies crossing a street in Jamrud, Pakistan, earlier this month.
CHAMAN, Pakistan (Reuters) -- Western military supplies passing through Pakistan to Afghanistan are facing more disruption after protesters blocked one route and militants launched the first attack in two weeks on another.

Pakistani supply routes to landlocked Afghanistan are vital for Western forces battling a resurgent Taliban and they are likely to become only more important as the United States builds up its force, perhaps doubling it to 60,000 soldiers, this year.

The U.S. military sends 75 percent of supplies for the Afghan war through or over Pakistan, including 40 percent of the fuel for its troops, the U.S. Defense Department says.

Pakistani Taliban stepped up attacks on the main route through Pakistan's Khyber Pass last year and Pakistani forces responded with an offensive in late December to clear militants off the route.

In the first attack since then, militants fired rocket-propelled grenades at a truck terminal outside the city of Peshawar on January 12, damaging a truck carrying food to foreign troops in Afghanistan, police said.

'Settle Things Down'

The other supply route through the border town of Chaman in Baluchistan Province, to the southwest of Peshawar, leading to the Afghan city of Kandahar, has been largely free of attacks, at least on the Pakistani side.

But ethnic Pashtun tribesmen, protesting against security force searches for militants, have been blocking the road to the border since January 10.

"Not a single truck has gone to the border in the past three days. We're in talks to settle things down," senior provincial government official Khaliq Nazar Kayani told Reuters.

Kayani is based in the town of Qila Abdullah, about 70 kilometers southwest of the Chaman border crossing, where the protesters have been blocking the road.

Tribal elder Abdul Qahar Wadan said the blockade would go on until the government punished those responsible for what he described as unjust searches.

"They have no right to enter our houses without proof. It's against our customs and honor," Wadan said.

Hundreds of trucks have been stopped and are parked by the side of the road in Qila Abdullah, residents said.

Usually, about 100 trucks cross into Afghanistan through the Chaman crossing every day, compared with about 300 through the Khyber Pass crossing at Torkham, customs officials say.

Western forces in Afghanistan have played down the impact of the disruption, saying they have stockpiles of supplies.

But the attacks in the Khyber region have forced NATO to look for alternative routes, including through Central Asia into northern Afghanistan.