ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — More than 100 trucks loaded with supplies for U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan were destroyed Sunday by militants in Peshawar, a Pakistani city that serves as an important transit point for the Afghan war effort.
It was the boldest of three major attacks by Taliban militants on NATO supplies in Pakistan in less than a month, and served to expose the vulnerability of the route from the port of Karachi through Peshawar and over the border into Afghanistan. The United States relies on the route for an overwhelming proportion of its supplies for the war in Afghanistan.
The damaged trucks were loaded with U.S. war materiel, including dozens of Humvees, said Col. Greg Julian, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital. In all, 160 vehicles were destroyed.
The militants overwhelmed the rudimentary security system at two lots where the trucks were parked in the heart of Peshawar. They easily disarmed security guards around 2:30 a.m., then threw grenades and fired rockets at the loaded trucks, torching them. One guard was killed.
"We were unable to challenge such a large number of armed men," said Muhammad Rafiq, a security guard. He estimated that 200 militants were involved in the attack.
Pakistani security forces apparently fired at the attackers.
"There was artillery and rapid exchange of fire," said a retired police official, Hidyatullah Arbab, who heard the firing from his home. "Peshawar is becoming a battleground."
Julian said the loss of equipment would have a minimal impact on the overall war effort. "It's a very insignificant loss in terms of everything transported into Afghanistan." Sunday's losses may exceed $10-million.
But critics of the war effort in Afghanistan have argued that the United States needs to act more urgently to shape the Afghan army into an effective fighting force. The loss of supplies to the Afghan army is a setback to that effort.
About 80 percent of supplies for the war in Afghanistan move from Karachi east through Pakistan and on to Afghanistan. Peshawar is the last staging point before the border about an hour's journey, or 40 miles, away.
From Peshawar, the Pakistani trucks loaded with the military supplies go through the Khyber section of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The Khyber area is almost totally controlled by factions of the Taliban, and many civilian government officials no longer dare to travel the road that the trucks use.
The Pakistani government said two weeks ago that it had beefed up protection for the supply trucks along the route.
But the ease with which the militants destroyed the vehicles on Sunday exposed the susceptibility of stationary equipment, even in the center of a city that houses the 11th Corps of the Pakistani army.
Last week, militants attacked another parking area in Peshawar. About 12 trucks with NATO supplies were ruined.
Perhaps the most brazen attack came Nov. 10, when about 60 Taliban militants hijacked a convoy of trucks on the Khyber road in broad daylight.
The Pakistani government is eager to hold on to the trucking business that supplies the war in Afghanistan. But the truck owners complain that the government is impotent in the face of the Taliban. The hijacking of the convoy last month was carried out by Taliban loyal to Baitullah Mehsud, the head of the umbrella group called Tehrik-e-Taliban.
U.S. military officials have said that they are looking to supply the Afghan war theater through Central Asia, which would diminish the dependence on Pakistan.