Pentagon officials confident Pakistan border will soon reopen
October 7, 2010
ARLINGTON, Va. – The Pentagon is hopeful that Pakistan’s Torkham gate into Afghanistan will reopen within “days,” a spokesman said Thursday, allowing a stalled convoy of supply vehicles increasingly under threat of attack to resume delivering war supplies.
International Security Assistance Force helicopters last week pursued what they believed were insurgents on the Afghanistan side of the Pakistan border. After seeing shots fired from a structure inside Pakistan, the helicopters returned fire, killing two Pakistanis and wounding four others. But the casualties were Pakistani corpsmen, and after an internal investigation, ISAF said it believed the helicopter crews mistook warning shots from the friendly forces as enemy fire.
Pakistan closed the gate because it was worried about reprisal attacks, according to Pentagon officials.
The border gate governs the only main road from Peshawar, Pakistan, to Afghanistan’s Jalalabad and Kabul. With a backup reportedly 150 vehicles long, the Pentagon now fears those private supply vehicles ferrying war supplies overland from ports, are now sitting ducks, vulnerable to attacks along the entire route all the way back to Kirachi, not just at the boarder.
“The delay provides more opportunities for criminals and militants to carry out more attacks [along the supply route],” spokesman Col. David Lapan said.
Security for the vehicles is first the responsibility of each company, and then the Pakistani military, but a Pentagon spokesman said it was impossible to expect that the entire route could be secure.
Adm. Mike Mullen, Joint Chiefs chairman, called his counterpart Pakistani military leader Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on Wednesday and sent a formal condolence letter about the deaths.
“Please know that the families of the soldiers lost in this tragic incident are in our constant thoughts and prayers,” Mullen wrote Kayani. “I think you already know, but I want to reinforce, that we take this incident very seriously and our most senior commanders in theater will review the investigation thoroughly with an eye toward avoiding recurrence of a tragedy like this.”
There is some confusion over who closed the border gate -- the Pakistani military or the civilian government -- and who has the power to reopen it.
“It was the government of Pakistan that made the decision to close the gate, so it’ll be the government of Pakistan that decides when the conditions are right to reopen the gate,” Lapan said. “We’re still hopeful that’ll happen, here, soon.”
The episode has highlighted U.S. difficulties winning Pakistani trust. A period of unusually public clashes -- more than half a dozen high-profile attacks by terrorists against NATO fuel trucks and military targets -- had prompted reassurance statements from the White House, Gen. David Petraeus and the U.S. ambassador in Islamabad, Anne Patterson. But one week earlier, the White House had sent to Congress a scathing National Security Council report saying Pakistan was not carrying its weight in the war against insurgent fighters. The Pentagon added to that this week by saying that ISAF forces had killed 110 terrorist fighters of the Haqqani network along the Pakistan border.
Additionally, the Central Intelligence Agency has shifted drones from Afghanistan to Pakistan in a sign that the U.S. is growing impatient with Pakistani efforts against elements inside its border, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday. “In recent months, the military has loaned Predator and Reaper drones to the [CIA] to give the agency more firepower to target and bombard militants on the Afghan border,” the report said.
Only one month ago, Defense Secretary Robert Gates was asked by a soldier at Camp Nathan Smith in Kandahar whether U.S. ground troops would be sent to fight terrorists inside Pakistan. “I think the likelihood of direct U.S. military engagement in Pakistan is very low,” Gates said.
Pakistani media this week is reporting growing public opposition to U.S. efforts that has reached the legislature, countering whatever positive gains the U.S. military’s massive flood relief operations may have cultivated.
On Tuesday, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell tried to tamp down concerns that the events are testing the US-Pakistan relationship. “Now the attacks on the ground convoys, the fuel convoys, are things, sadly, that we’ve had to live with for years. I mean, there have been attacks historically on NATO convoys passaging through Pakistan to Afghanistan, and they are sometimes sensational, and they are sometimes horrific, and they are sometimes deadly, and that is tragic.
“But if you put this in context and in perspective,” he said, “we’re talking about, you know, impacting about 1 percent of the supplies that we funnel through Pakistan into Afghanistan. So they have never really adversely impacted our ability to conduct operations in Afghanistan.”