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Militants blast Pakistan truck stops

King is a Times staff writer.

In one of the largest and most brazen attacks of its kind, suspected Taliban insurgents with heavy weapons attacked two truck stops in northwest Pakistan on Sunday, destroying more than 150 vehicles carrying supplies bound for U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan.

The predawn attack on the outskirts of the city of Peshawar left the grounds of the truck terminals littered with the burned-out shells of Humvees and other military vehicles being transported by private truckers. At least one guard was reported killed.

Early today, a second attack on Western supplies was reported in the same area. A security guard said 50 containers had been burned and some vehicles destroyed by rocket fire.

The guard said that militants stormed a truck terminal and fought a light gun-battle with security personnel, who surrendered. The militants told the guards to stop working for NATO, and then poured gasoline over the containers and lit them.

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Peshawar abuts Pakistan’s barely governed tribal areas, which are rife with violence. With attention focused on tensions between India and Pakistan in the wake of the attacks in Mumbai last month, U.S. officials are concerned that the government in Islamabad will throttle back on its confrontation with militants in the tribal areas, opening the door to more such strikes.

U.S. military officials in Afghanistan declined to specify the number of vehicles destroyed in Sunday’s attack, but described the losses as militarily insignificant.

The bold assault underscored the vulnerability of supplies moving by road through Pakistan. About three-quarters of the supplies bound for U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops in Afghanistan -- fuel, food and equipment -- travel by road through perilous mountain passes after being shipped to the port of Karachi. Afghanistan has no sea access.

Militant attacks on Western supply convoys here have been gaining force in recent weeks. Most of the assaults have occurred as they moved through the tribal areas on their way to the historic Khyber Pass that leads into Afghanistan.

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Nearly a month ago, militants hijacked a convoy of more than a dozen vehicles. Then last week, 22 trucks were torched at a truck stop.

Witnesses to the Sunday assault said the attackers fired rocket-propelled grenades before overrunning the two depots and burning dozens of trucks. Pakistani police did not arrive at the scene until about 40 minutes later, they said.

Pakistan briefly closed the Khyber Pass to military traffic after the Nov. 10 hijacking, but later reopened it, saying convoys would be guarded by Pakistani paramilitary troops.

Peshawar itself is also on edge. The death toll in a car bombing Friday in the crowded city center rose to 29. Authorities said the blast might have been the result of sectarian tensions, but no group claimed responsibility.

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laura.king@latimes.com

Special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali contributed to this report from Peshawar.


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