`Pak closure of supply route not affecting Afghan operations`

Pentagon insists recent NATO air strike was carried out in "self defence".

Last Updated: Oct 02, 2010, 12:05 PM IST

Washington: Insisting that the recent NATO air strike along the Af-Pak border was carried out in "self defence", the Pentagon has, nevertheless, said the Pakistani Army`s decision to close the supply route for US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan has not affected its operations in the war-torn country.

"It is still the case, at last reports, that Torkham Gate remains (in Pakistan) closed," Pentagon spokesman Col David Lapan told reporters.

"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," he said, adding that 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.

Lapan said Pakistan has informed them that the decision to close the supply route was taken as a security measure amidst growing tension.

"What the Pakistani military described to us was that the closure of the gate was due to their concerns over rising tensions. It was to them a security issue; tensions in the area due to these incidents," he said.

Noting that Pakistani officials are investigating that attack by NATO forces, Lapan said the communication along the border between Pakistan border security elements and coalition forces in Afghanistan is always difficult.

"Yesterday`s (Thursday`s) incident was not intentional," he said. "The action was in self defence," Lapan said, adding that the border guards fired what were later determined as warning shots at the US helicopters.

Giving details of the incident, Lapan said it occurred along the border near Afghanistan`s Dand Patan district in Paktiya province.

International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) 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, he said.

Acknowledging the helicopters were temporarily in Pakistani airspace when they received the warning shots, Lapan, however, could not confirm if communication protocols between Pakistani border guards and ISAF were followed.

"The incident is currently under investigation by ISAF and Pakistan`s government," he said, amid reports that three Pakistani soldiers were killed in that attack.

"The focus of this assessment is defining those activities that happened in the border region. 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. The exact circumstances of how this came to be and whether protocols were followed -- it`s what we`re looking into," Lapan said.

Separately, State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said the Pakistani routes are very important but they are not the only route to Afghanistan.

"They`re important. They`re not the only means by which we re-supply our efforts in Afghanistan. We`ve got the northern distribution network that we`ve worked out with Russia and other countries in the region as well, but the land supply routes through Pakistan are vitally important," he said.

"We`re not surprised that insurgents have in the past - and have done so again in the past few hours - attacked those routes, and - but they are important and we will work with Pakistan to make sure that we have the best security possible," Crowley said.

"There is one supply route that is currently not available. We continue to talk to the government of Pakistan about that. That said, there are multiple supply routes. So as I think the Pentagon said yesterday, at this point, the closure of one route has not had a significant impact," he said.

On the flood relief operation in Pakistan, the Pentagon said its work in this regard continues unabated. Air Force C-130s and C-17s have been delivering aid since August 16.

As of last week, airmen have delivered more than GBP 5.5 million of aid. This brings the total to almost GBP 13.7 million of aid, Lapan said.

"Flood relief efforts continue. 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 (functioning)," Lapan said.

PTI