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Pakistanis Reopen Khyber Pass For Afghan Supplies

Pakistani security personnel stand guard at a checkpoint at the entrance to the restive Khyber tribal region.
JAMRUD, Pakistan (Reuters) -- Trucks rumbled through Pakistan's Khyber Pass, resuming the transport of supplies to Western forces in Afghanistan three days after authorities suspended shipments to clear out militants.

Pakistani Taliban militants in the Khyber region have been trying for months to block vital supplies bound for landlocked Afghanistan, launching a string of attacks in which hundreds of trucks have been destroyed and several drivers killed.

Pakistani security forces began an operation on December 30, sealing off the road while troops backed by tanks and helicopter gunships moved in to tackle the militants.

A top government official in the Khyber's main town of Jamrud said the road was reopened on January 2 and trucks were free to go up to the Afghan border.

"The route will remain open between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. (0600-1100 GMT) every day and can be used by whoever wants to," the region's top administrator, Tariq Hayat Khan, told reporters.

Another administration official, Jehangir Khan, said 300 trucks had traveled through the pass to the Afghan border on January 2, many carrying supplies for Western forces.

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.

The attacks have exposed the vulnerability of supply links for Western forces struggling to subdue an intensifying Taliban insurgency and NATO has been forced to look for alternative routes, including through Central Asia into northern Afghanistan.

Troop Increases

There are two routes into Afghanistan from the Pakistani port of Karachi, one through the Khyber Pass and the other through the town of Chaman to the southwest, leading to the Afghan city of Kandahar.

They are likely to become even more important as the United States increases the number of its troops in Afghanistan, perhaps doubling the number to about 60,000 next year.

Troops faced very little resistance from militants in this week's offensive. Four civilians and a militant were killed on the first day, intelligence officials said, but no casualties have been reported since then.

Security officials and residents said most of militants apparently fled to the neighboring Mohmand region.

In June, militants also melted away when security forces launched a similar sweep in Khyber, only to resume attacks later.

Khan said 43 people, including militants and criminals wanted by the government, had been arrested and the operation would continue until all of its objectives had been achieved.