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Pakistan seals off NATO supply line to Afghanistan after US air attack

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Shah Khalid/AP Photo

(Read caption) Afghanistan-bound NATO trucks carrying supplies for NATO forces make their way through the Pakistani border town of Chaman on Thursday, Sept. 30. Authorities are taking extra measures to provide safety for NATO vehicles which are frequently targeted by militants.

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• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Pakistan on Thursday blocked a key NATO supply line into Afghanistan after accusing US-led forces of mistakenly killing three Pakistani paramilitary border troops in a helicopter raid hours earlier.

The events are testing the already fragile US-Pakistan alliance against Al Qaeda terrorists and Taliban militants holed up in remote, rugged mountain terrain in northwestern Pakistan tribal areas.

They come also as details continue to emerge of an alleged large-scale terror plot against targets in Europe hatched by Pakistani-based militants that was reportedly disrupted in its early stages by Western intelligence and air strikes in Pakistan. Some reports said the United States and NATO's stepped-up air attacks were aimed at the plot's planners.

The Associated Press reported that NATO has launched a probe into the alleged killing of the three border guards that Pakistani officials said took place at a checkpoint on the Pakistani side of the border in the Upper Kurram region Thursday (see map). Pakistan has lodged complaints.

"We will have to see whether we are allies or enemies," Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said of the border incident, without mentioning the blockade. ...

Over the weekend, NATO helicopters fired on targets in Pakistan at least two times, killing several suspected insurgents they had pursued over the border from Afghanistan. Pakistan's government protested the attacks, which came in a month during which there have been an unprecedented number of US drone missile strikes in the northwest, inflaming already pervasive anti-American sentiment among Pakistanis.

Two Pakistani government officials said that shortly after the alleged incident, Pakistan moved to block the Torkham border post at the edge of the Khyber tribal region, according to AP. Pakistan reportedly closed the same passage briefly in September 2008 after a US Special Forces raid into Pakistani tribal areas, according to the Congressional Research Service (pdf). The New York Times calls it "the most important border crossing for trucks supplying NATO-led coalition troops in Afghanistan."

On Thursday, the Pakistani daily Dawn reported a fresh round of attack-helicopter strikes by coalition forces against targets in Upper Kurram. Local officials strongly condemned the new strikes as "an attack on Pakistan's sovereignty," Dawn reported.

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The Daily Telegraph reported late Wednesday UK time that 15 to 20 British citizens are currently training inside Al Qaeda-run terror camps in Pakistan, citing "Western intelligence sources."

The disclosure comes after the CIA launched drone strikes on Pakistan training camps in North and South Waziristan in an attempt to disrupt an Al Qaeda-plot to launch an attack targeting Britain, France, and Germany.

The plans would have seen terrorists sent on to the streets, probably of the capital cities, to shoot random passersby before heading in to landmark buildings. Intelligence sources said that the attacks would have been coordinated for maximum impact and may have been aimed at financial institutions. However, the terror cells had not yet travelled to Europe and the targets were still unclear.

Pakistan has been the recipient of lavish US support. From 2001 to 2008 it received some $5.3 billion in US aid, including $3.1 billion in development and humanitarian aid, making it one of the top recipients of US aid funding, according to the 2009 Congressional Research Service report (pdf) on US-Pakistani relations. Pakistan also received in that time some $6.7 billion in military "reimbursements" from the US for its counterterror efforts, the report said.

But although Pakistan is a nominal ally in the US-led war on Al Qaeda, anti-American sentiment runs strong among the Pakistani population, and "there exist widely held suspicions among foreign governments and independent analysts alike that Islamabad’s civilian government does not fully control the Army, that the Army does not fully control the intelligence agencies, and that the these intelligence agencies have lost their ability to rein in the very militant groups they helped to create," wrote the report's author, K. Alan Kronstadt.

In June 2008, 11 Pakistani Frontier Corps soldiers were killed in a US bombing raid, according to the report.


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