By RIAZ KHAN, Associated Press Writer
PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Assailants torched 10 trucks stranded in Pakistan by the bombing of a key bridge on the main supply route for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, an official said Wednesday.
Increasing attacks on transport depots and truck convoys heading to bases across the border have raised doubts about Pakistan's ability to protect the vital road as the U.S. prepares to send as many as 30,000 more American forces into Afghanistan this year.
Attackers set fire to at least 10 trucks parked overnight near Landi Kotal, a town close to the famed Khyber Pass that connects Pakistan with Afghanistan, local government official Fazl Rabi said.
The trucks were returning from Afghanistan and it was unclear if they had carried goods for foreign troops, Rabi said.
U.S. officials have played down any concern about running out of food or fuel, despite pressure on their supply lines. American forces stockpile enough supplies to last 60-90 days in the event that their supply chain is severed, U.S. officials say.
The Khyber route was cut Tuesday when suspected militants set off a bomb that wrecked a bridge across a rocky gorge near the pass. The red metal bridge was twisted and partially collapsed at one end.
Bakhtiar Khan, another local government official, said Pakistan army engineers were working on the bridge with the aim of reopening it by Thursday.
Khan said cars and other small vehicles were able to cross the gorge by picking their way along a rough track that crossed the dry river bed near the bridge but that no trucks were moving.
Some 75 percent of U.S. supplies to Afghanistan currently travel through Pakistan, and securing efficient and safe supply routes into Afghanistan has become a top priority for U.S. officials.
With Taliban militants gaining strength on both sides of the border, American and NATO officials have been seeking alternative routes through Central Asia.
But Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday raised a new obstacle for the U.S. by threatening to close American access to a Kyrgyz air base. The U.S. Embassy in the Central Asian country said Wednesday that both sides were still in talks on maintaining a base there.
Meanwhile, militants released 30 police and paramilitary officers they kidnapped late Tuesday after surrounding a police station in the Swat Valley, a police officer said. The valley, in Pakistan's northwest, was once a popular tourist destination but the growing influence of insurgents and a related surge in violence have made it too dangerous for travelers.
Swat police cheif Dilawar Khan Bangash said the men were released after pressure from tribal elders.
On Monday, John Solecki, an American U.N. worker was kidnapped as he traveled to work in Quetta city in Baluchistan. Police said it was not clear whether Islamist militants, criminals seeking a ransom payment or members of a regional separatist group were responsible. Authorities are questioning more than a dozen people in connection with the abduction.