ISLAMABAD — More than a dozen oil tankers carrying fuel for NATO troops in Afghanistan were torched in Rawalpindi early Monday, not far from Pakistan’s capital and the headquarters of the military, police officials said.
The attack was the second on NATO vehicles since Pakistan closed a major border crossing to Afghanistan last week in protest over a series of strikes by NATO helicopters on Pakistani border posts.
The closing of the border has resulted in a slowdown of supplies to American and NATO troops in Afghanistan and has shown the leverage Pakistan holds over the flow of equipment to the war effort.
NATO military officials said that the closing of the border crossing has not yet hampered military supplies or operations, but behind the scenes they are exploring other possibilities for moving troop supplies into Afghanistan in case the tensions with Pakistan cannot be resolved quickly.
About 50 percent of the supplies for troops in Afghanistan move through Pakistan, including fuel, food and other staples. While the majority of the supplies come through the now-closed Torkham crossing, a significant percentage also flows through the Chaman border crossing, north of Quetta, Pakistan.
An additional 30 percent comes through northern Afghanistan, traversing Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. More delicate materials like electronics, weapons and ammunition arrive by air, according to the military.
“It’s too early to tell the impact,” said Maj. Joel T. Harper, a spokesman at the NATO headquarters in Kabul. “We’re working with the government of Pakistan to address their concerns.” Harper also said, “We expect these matters to be resolved through review of this incident.”
While the northern supply route could be expanded, the goods have farther to travel before they reach the troops, who are mostly positioned in the south and east of Afghanistan. Furthermore, north to south roads in Afghanistan are poor.
“Quietly we have been looking into other options,” said a NATO official who was not authorized to speak to reporters on the subject. “Resolving this is in the interests of both sides. If this condition persists and we have to make other arrangements, it means more expense to us and a significant revenue loss for Pakistan.” Television footage of the convoy attack early Monday showed firefighters struggling to douse the flames of the trucks waiting at a refueling station in Rawalpindi.
A group of eight assailants attacked the trucks, according to Mir Waiz, a police officer from Islamabad. Three people were killed in the attack, presumably drivers, Waiz said.
The attackers were “terrorists,” Waiz said. Pakistani news media reported that the Pakistani Taliban were responsible for the attacks.
The interior minister, Rehman Malik, appealed Monday for an end to the attacks, saying in a television interview that the drivers of the trucks were Muslims.