Pakistan Gate Closure Doesn’t Affect Afghan Mission

WASHINGTON, Oct. 1, 2010 — U.S. and NATO oper­a­tions in Afghanistan con­tin­ue with­out issues despite the loss of access yes­ter­day to a major sup­ply route through Pak­istan, Pen­ta­gon offi­cials said today.

Pakistan’s mil­i­tary closed the cross­ing at Torkham Gate along the bor­der of Afghanistan and north­west­ern Pak­istan after U.S. heli­copters yes­ter­day unknow­ing­ly killed sev­er­al Pak­istani bor­der guards, Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan, a Pen­ta­gon spokesman, told reporters. 

“It is still the case, at last reports, that Torkham Gate remains closed,” Lapan said. “We are still dis­cussing with the Pak­istan gov­ern­ment that Pak­ista­nis resolve this and get it re-opened, but in the mean­time, there is still no imme­di­ate impact on our oper­a­tions in Afghanistan.” 

About 50 per­cent of coali­tion forces’ non-lethal sup­plies, such as water, food and fuel come into Afghanistan from Pakistan’s Torkham and Shaman gates, he added. 

The inci­dent was not the first such attack this week where Amer­i­can air­craft unknow­ing­ly killed Pak­ista­nis that were not insur­gents. Lapan said ris­ing ten­sions among Pak­ista­nis along the bor­der prompt­ed Pakistan’s deci­sion to close the gate. 

“What the Pak­istani mil­i­tary described to us was that the clo­sure of the gate was due to their con­cerns over ris­ing ten­sions,” he said. “It was to them a secu­ri­ty issue; ten­sions in the area due to these incidents. 

Such ten­sions led to a mil­i­tant attack on a NATO con­voy this morn­ing in south­ern Afghanistan. The con­voy was car­ry­ing fuel, trav­el­ing about 250 miles north of Karachi when mil­i­tants torched more than two dozen trucks. 

Pak­istani offi­cials are inves­ti­gat­ing that attack, Lapan noted. 

Lapan lat­er added that com­mu­ni­ca­tion along the bor­der between Pak­istan bor­der secu­ri­ty ele­ments and coali­tion forces in Afghanistan is always dif­fi­cult. Yesterday’s inci­dent was not inten­tion­al, he said. 

“The action was in self defense,” Lapan said, explain­ing that the bor­der guards fired what were lat­er deter­mined as warn­ing shots at the U.S. helicopters.

The inci­dent occurred along the bor­der near Afghanistan’s Dand Patan dis­trict in Pak­tiya province. Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Forces observed insur­gents attempt­ing to fire mor­tars at a coali­tion base near­by. An air weapons team was called into action and destroyed the insur­gent fir­ing position. 

The heli­copters were tem­porar­i­ly in Pak­istani air­space when they received the warn­ing shots, Lapan said. Lapan could not con­firm if com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­to­cols between Pak­istan bor­der guards and ISAF were fol­lowed. The inci­dent is cur­rent­ly under inves­ti­ga­tion by ISAF and Pakistan’s gov­ern­ment, he added. 

“The focus of this assess­ment is defin­ing those activ­i­ties that hap­pened in the bor­der region,” he said. “The attack implies that the insur­gents con­tin­ue to use that bor­der area to launch attacks, believ­ing that they have refuge. 

“Insur­gents are attack­ing from this bor­der region, and we’re coun­ter­ing,” Lapan added. “The exact cir­cum­stances of how this came to be and whether pro­to­cols were fol­lowed — it’s what we’re look­ing into.” 

Mean­while, the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary con­tin­ues to pro­vide relief to flood vic­tims in north­west­ern Pak­istan, he said. U.S. mil­i­tary aid oper­a­tions began Aug. 5 with Army heli­copters from Afghanistan deliv­er­ing sup­plies and res­cu­ing those trapped by flood­ing. Marine heli­copters from the USS Peleliu replaced the Army air­craft, and togeth­er they have deliv­ered more than 8 mil­lion pounds or relief supplies. 

Air Force C‑130s and C‑17s have been deliv­er­ing aid since Aug. 16. As of last week, air­men have deliv­ered more than 5.5 mil­lion pounds of aid. This brings the total to almost 13.7 mil­lion pounds of aid, Lapan said. 

The U.S. mil­i­tary air­craft have res­cued more than 20,000 dis­placed Pakistanis. 

“Flood relief efforts con­tin­ue,” Lapan said. “It has not been curbed, but there are ongo­ing dis­cus­sions about what the need is, because there are now roads open that were not previously.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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