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Bridge Attack Strands Thousands, Severs Afghan Supply Route

Local residents flee violence in Swat valley, another hotspot in western Pakistan's tribal areas.
PESHAWAR (RFE/RL) -- The bombing of a bridge in Pakistan's tribal region by suspected militants targeting a Western military supply line has left thousands of people and vehicles stranded on both sides of the blast.

Attacks on the route -- which historically links Peshawar with the Afghan capital, Kabul -- have intensified in the past year as militants try to disrupt the Afghan operations of NATO- and U.S.-led forces.

An independent journalist on the scene, Fazlulah Shinwari, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan within hours of the attack that thousands of vehicles -- including ambulances -- were unable to pass.

"The bridge was blown up at a certain point that leaves no alternative for vehicles or personnel to be able to cross to the other side," Shinwari said.

"Thousands of people have been waiting on both sides since the bridge was blown up -- not only officials but also ordinary Afghans trying to get to the other side, including children and women, who are rushing to the area," he added.

Officials said after the explosion took out the 30-meter metal bridge in the early morning hours that all traffic along the route was suspended.

A NATO official declined to comment soon after the attack, but it appeared that the incident had left a main supply route to U.S. and other international forces in Afghanistan at least temporarily closed.

Authorities have not offered an estimate of how long it might take to fix the damage and reopen the highway.

The Peshawar-to-Kabul highway -- which winds through dozens of tunnels and across scores of bridges -- has been choked off twice by militants' attacks since September.

Separately, security forces killed at least 35 Taliban insurgents and wounded many others in an attack in the Swat Valley, northeast of the Kyber Pass, on the night of February 2, a military spokesman said.

The U.S. Defense Department says 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.

with additional wire reporting