WASHINGTON — The US military on Tuesday suspended shipments of equipment out of Afghanistan through Pakistan, citing protests that posed a threat to the safety of truck drivers, officials said.
The move came after club-wielding activists in northwestern Pakistan forcibly searched trucks for NATO supplies in protest over US drone strikes in the country’s tribal belt.
“We have voluntarily halted US shipments of retrograde cargo through the Pakistan Ground Line of Communication (GLOCC) from Torkham Gate through Karachi,” Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright said in a statement.
He was referring to the main overland route used by the Americans and NATO to withdraw military hardware from Afghanistan, as part of a troop pullout set to wrap up by the end of 2014.
Trucks have been told to wait in holding areas in Afghanistan, officials said.
“We anticipate that we will be able to resume our shipments through this route in the near future,” Wright said.
A defense official said Washington believed the Islamabad government fully supported the use of the route and that it would soon restore security to the area.
“The companies that we contract with were getting nervous. And it’s getting a little too dangerous for the truck drivers,” the defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Agence France-Press.
The United States has alternate routes available to the north through Central Asia, although those options take longer and are more expensive.
About half of the US cargo is being taken out through the Pakistan route via the Torkham crossing, with the remainder being removed by aircraft or a combination of planes and ships.