The latest attacks on fuel tankers along the blocked NATO supply route that crosses from Pakistan into Afghanistan at the closed Torkham crossing have resulted in three deaths and possibly more than 20 tankers burned. The Taliban in Pakistan have claimed responsibility for the attacks, vowing to continue them until the supply lines are completely blocked. The Taliban also said the attacks are a direct response to drone attacks, which, although reaching record rates in September, have not disrupted plans for attacks in Europe, leading the US Department of State to issue a travel warning for Americans going to Europe.
The situation in Pakistan appears to have reached a point where a positive feedback loop prompts continued escalation on both sides. The US sees drone attacks as its primary weapon and has stepped up such attacks in the belief that they will create more security for military actions in Afghanistan and disrupt planning of terrorist attacks on the West. Instead, the attacks appear to enrage the surviving targets, recruit more to their ranks and lead to more attacks.
We learn from the Telegraph that the Taliban in Pakistan has created a new group dedicated to the disruption of NATO supply lines through Pakistan:
The Pakistan Taliban has claimed responsibility for an attack on tankers carrying oil for Nato and US troops to Afghanistan.
The group vowed to continue raiding supply lines in Pakistan until they are shut down completely – Monday’s attack, which killed three people was the third such strike inside Pakistan in as many days.
Spokesman Azam Tariq said a new wing of the group had been created to strike the convoys and that the attacks "would continue until the supplies are completely stopped."
Dawn adds to Tariq’s statements in an article from AFP:
“We will carry out more such attacks in future. We will not allow the use of Pakistani soil as a supply route for Nato troops based in Afghanistan,” he said.
“This is also to avenge drone attacks,” he added.
Reuters informs us that the record number of NATO drone strikes in September was not able to disrupt terrorism planning:
Western intelligence sources said militants in hide-outs in northwest Pakistan had been plotting coordinated attacks on European cities, the plans apparently surviving setbacks from a September surge in drone strikes and an arrest.
However, this same article contains the admission that not all of the basis for the travel warning is new information:
In Washington, U.S. officials said Osama bin Laden and the top al Qaeda leadership were likely behind the plot, adding that the decision to issue the alert was based on an accumulation of information, rather than a specific new revelation.
Despite the nebulous nature of the threat, the State Department issued a warning on Sunday:
The State Department alerts U.S. citizens to the potential for terrorist attacks in Europe. Current information suggests that al-Qa’ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks. European governments have taken action to guard against a terrorist attack and some have spoken publicly about the heightened threat conditions.
Terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests. U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. Terrorists have targeted and attacked subway and rail systems, as well as aviation and maritime services. U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling.
With NATO stepping up drone attacks and the Taliban and al Qaeda responding with more attacks and attack planning, this would appear to be a situation that has reached a point of positive feedback that only leads to increasing levels of violence.
One note should be made in closing, however, before completely buying the narrative that only NATO forces and "terrorists" are involved in these events. In this important diary, Dubhaltach warns us to look carefully at where the tanker attacks have taken place:
Take a look at a road map of Pakistan. Find the port of Karachi and then going North trace the supply routes to Afghanistan. (You’re looking for two routes an eastern route and a western one) :
The Eastern leg goes through Quetta while the western leg the goes through the Kohat tunnel and the Khyber. As you trace the routes from Karachi you can see that they fork. Shikarpur, which is the town in Sindh where the convoy was attacked is below the fork. — There aren’t any "militant" groups operating in that part of Pakistan. Shikarpur is very far away from the border and from the "tribal" areas.
A really good map to consult for these thoughts is at the bottom of this BBC article, where all of the recent tanker attacks are shown along the supply routes. Indeed, only today’s attack outside Islamabad is at all close to the tribal areas of Pakistan, which are in the extreme north of the country along its border with Aghanistan, but Islamabad is still far from the border. So, Dubhaltach is warning us that the attacks are occurring outside the "lawless" areas of Pakistan and therefore might have some involvement that is not just Taliban.
To the extent that the Pakistani government and/or military has any role in the tanker attacks, the problem becomes much larger for NATO. Note that in closing the Torkham (Khyber Pass) crossing, the Pakistani government is interfering less with the current NATO offensive around Kandahar than if they closed the southern crossing point at Chaman. But, each attack on a convoy far removed from the tribal regions should serve as a sober reminder to NATO that they depend heavily on moving supplies through the country from the port at Karachi and that it is only with the support of the Pakistani government and military that these goods will move in a reliable manner.