ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Gunmen in northwest Pakistan attacked two trucks ferrying supplies to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing a driver and injuring another in what was believed to be the first ambush of an alliance supply convoy since Pakistani authorities ended a seven-month blockade of the supply routes.
The trucks were moving through the tribal region of Khyber on their way to the Torkham border crossing when assailants on two motorcycles drove up and opened fire with AK-47 rifles, witnesses and local authorities said.
No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but following Islamabad’s decision earlier this month to reopen transit routes used by Afghanistan-bound NATO supply convoys, Pakistani Taliban militants had warned that they would begin launching attacks on the convoys.
Pakistan shut down NATO supply routes through the country last November after U.S. airstrikes mistakenly killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border.
The soldiers’ deaths were widely viewed by Pakistanis as a last straw for the troubled U.S.-Pakistan relationship, which had already been severely strained by Washington’s ongoing drone missile campaign against militants in the country’s northwest, the American commando raid deep into Pakistani territory that killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011, and the release of a CIA contractor accused of killing two Pakistani men in the eastern city of Lahore in January 2011.
The supply routes were reopened after Washington issued a carefully worded apology for the November border incident, satisfying one of Pakistan’s key demands during months of negotiations aimed at ending the blockade.
The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan uses Pakistan as a transit country for roughly 40% of its nonlethal supplies, which move by truck from the Pakistani port city of Karachi to crossings on the Afghan border. During the blockade, Washington had to rely on a more circuitous and costly route into Afghanistan from the north, which was costing the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan roughly $100 million a month.
The supply routes through Pakistan will become even more crucial as the U.S. and its Western allies begin transporting heavy equipment out of Afghanistan as part of planned troop withdrawals slated to wrap up by the end of 2014.
NATO supply trucks and tankers bound for Afghanistan have been ambushed dozens of times in recent years, and Tuesday’s attack likely will renew questions about the level of security that Pakistani authorities had assured they would provide to the convoys.
Bakhtiar Mohmand, a senior Khyber government official, said local authorities are providing security to NATO vehicles en route to the Torkham crossing. However, the two trucks that were attacked had left a convoy without informing authorities, Mohmand said.
--Alex Rodriguez in Islamabad and Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar, Pakistan.
Photo: Pakistani security officials guard the route of NATO's overland supply road on Tuesday after militants attacked alliance trucks en route to the Torkham border crossing with Afghanistan, killing a local driver. Credit: Wali Khan Shiwari / European Pressphoto Agency.