Peshawar, Pakistan: Nato supplies via a vital Pakistani border crossing with Afghanistan resumed on Sunday after a hiatus caused by a Nato air attack, as officials said a US drone had killed seven militants.
The first convoy through the Torkham border crossing, comprising more than a dozen vehicles, “left for Afghanistan on Sunday afternoon,” customs official Mohammad Nawaz told AFP.
More vehicles loaded with supplies for Nato and US troops were ready to leave, he added.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry on Saturday announced the reopening of the main land route for Nato supplies after an 11-day gap “with immediate effect”.
The route is crucial to supplying the nine-year campaign by US and Nato forces in Afghanistan against the Taliban insurgency.
During the closure thousands of oil tankers and supply vehicles became stranded at different points between the port city of Karachi and Peshawar.
Scores of Nato vehicles were destroyed in gun and arson attacks over the past week while the border crossing was shut, as Taliban militants stepped up efforts to disrupt the route and avenge US drone strikes.
The reopening came after US ambassador Anne Patterson on Wednesday apologised to Pakistan on behalf of the American people for the “terrible accident” that killed at least two Pakistani soldiers.
Pakistan shut the main Khyber Pass border crossing on 30 September after a cross-border assault by a Nato helicopter based in Afghanistan killed the Pakistani soldiers, straining already tense ties.
The top US military official, Admiral Mike Mullen, also tried to publicly repair relations damaged by the chopper intrusion, in which the Pakistani soldiers were mistaken for militants.
“We extend our deepest apology to Pakistan and the families of the Frontier Scouts who were killed and injured,” Patterson said late Wednesday. “Pakistan’s brave security forces are our allies in a war that threatens both Pakistan and the US.”
Separately, in a letter to Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, Mullen on Thursday said the US military took the incident “very seriously” and offered his condolences.
Mullen said senior commanders would review an investigation into the incident thoroughly in the hope of “avoiding recurrence of a tragedy like this”.
Earlier US General David Petraeus, commander of Nato troops in Afghanistan said: “We deeply regret this tragic loss of life and will continue to work with the Pakistan military and government to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
Nawaz said 24 oil tankers would leave immediately and another 124 trucks parked at the border would cross by sunset.
Officials said between 200 and 300 fuel tankers and supply trucks usually cross the border daily.
In the latest militant attack on supply vehicles on Saturday at least 29 Nato oil tankers were torched by gunmen in the southwestern province of Baluchistan.
Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for six such attacks in the past week.
Brigadier General Josef Blotz, a spokesman for the US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), denied that the closure of Torkham had impacted operations in Afghanistan.
“The first truck has crossed the border,” he told reporters in Kabul. The blockade “didn’t have any impact on our operations of the last 10 days,” he added.
Meanwhile on Sunday seven militants were killed when a US drone aircraft fired four missiles at a compound in North Waziristan region, which Washington has branded an Al-Qaeda headquarters and hub for militants fighting in Afghanistan.
Since 3 September the United States has launched 27 drone attacks in the border area, killing more than 150 militants.
The border region is being targeted by a record number of drone strikes after Western intelligence agencies said they had uncovered an Al-Qaeda hatched plot to attack cities in Britain, France and Germany.