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)