U.S. Supply Lines at Risk along Pakistan Border

An American Humvee races across a desert, a flag waving from the side, a gunman in the turret taking sight.

But there is something wrong with this picture. The flag is not American, and the gunman is not wearing a U.S. uniform.

The Humvee had just been stolen by the Taliban movement in Pakistan, which is led by one of the most wanted men in Pakistan: Baitullah Mehsud. His men were taking a joy ride, Mehsud's flag waving from the side of the Humvee, a masked, armed man sitting on top waving at a camera.

Today in Pakistan's Khyber Agency, which borders eastern Afghanistan, Mehsud's Taliban fighters hijacked 13 trucks filled with U.S. and NATO supplies destined for Afghanistan. It is the latest sign that the U.S. supply line for the Afghan war -- 80 percent of which goes through Pakistan -- is as vulnerable as ever.

"About 60 masked gunmen popped up on the road and took away the trucks with their drivers," Bakhtiar Mohmand, a local government administrator, told Reuters. "Not a single shot was fired anywhere."

Earlier this year dozens of trucks were burned to a crisp in the same area. Over the summer, a truckful of Humvees was destroyed by a mob in Karachi.

Truck operators told Reuters today that about two dozen trucks and oil tankers have been attacked in the past month near the Afghan border.

"The government is a silent spectator. [Militants] attack our trucks, loot them and kill our drivers in broad daylight, even near security checkposts, but [the government] can't do anything," Eshtiar Mohmand, who owns a trucking company, told Reuters.

Every day hundreds of trucks make the 1,100-mile journey from Karachi to Kabul, rumbling along some of the least-hospitable territory in the world. These "jingle trucks," as they're known here, may not look like much, but they contain the lifeblood of the American army in Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan is a landlocked country. Everything we want to use to eat, drink and to shoot has to come in from outside," said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA agent and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. "The Taliban and al Qaeda recognize completely this is a vulnerability and a place where it's easier for them to operate inside Pakistan than it is for us, and the way to really turn the screws on the NATO forces in Afghanistan is to go after the logistics pipeline."

Taliban Targets U.S.Supplies in Khyber Agency

The Pakistani military launched an operation in the Khyber Agency in June and declared the area free of militants. But the Pakistani Taliban, Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda continue to use the tribal areas along the border as a safe haven and training space. It is those militants who have virtually free rein to do what they want when they want.

If the attacks cripple the supply line, Riedel said, U.S. troops are "not going to have the equipment they need, they're not going to have the food they need, and you're going to have an American and NATO force which is literally cut off and dependent on whatever can be brought in by air, which is incredibly expensive and very, very difficult."

The threat to the supply line is also political.

The Pakistani government and military, which received some $13 billion from the United States since 9/11, have mostly helped the supply line since the war in Afghanistan began.

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