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Originally published Wednesday, December 31, 2008 at 7:00 AM

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Pakistan kills 3 in Afghan supply route operation

Pakistani troops killed three militants in an operation to secure the major supply route to U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, an official said Wednesday.

Associated Press Writer

PESHAWAR, Pakistan —

Pakistani troops killed three militants in an operation to secure the major supply route to U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, an official said Wednesday.

The route through the famed Khyber Pass remained closed for a second day because of the operation but will hopefully reopen soon, said Fazal Mahmood, a local official.

The U.S. military has praised the campaign and said the temporary closure of the road was not a problem.

Western forces in landlocked Afghanistan rely on the winding, mountainous road for delivery of up to 75 percent of their fuel, food and other goods, which arrive in Pakistan via the port city of Karachi.

Militants have staged repeated attacks on supply convoys heading along the pass across Pakistan's western border to Afghanistan, where fighting is escalating seven years after a U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime.

On Tuesday, Pakistani security forces launched an operation using artillery and helicopter gunships in the Khyber tribal area. "Our forces have killed at least three militants, and the operation is continuing," Mahmood told The Associated Press.

Tanks, artillery and helicopter gunships continued the attacks Wednesday, said Tariq Hayat Khan, the top administration official in Khyber. Over two days, security forces have destroyed 19 suspected militant compounds and arrested 28 Pakistanis, said Khan.

Among the Pakistanis detained was Malik Najibullah Khan, the tribal chief suspected of first providing shelter and support for the Pakistani Taliban in the Khyber area, he said.

Officials have also arrested 116 Afghans, who will be deported, he added.

"This operation is meant to flush out the miscreants," said Khan. "It will continue until the complete authority of the government is established."

American commanders insist the militant attacks on the supply line have not disrupted their mission in Afghanistan. They say they have enough supplies to last many weeks in case shipping routes are blocked.

But with the U.S. preparing to almost double the number of its soldiers in Afghanistan next year, the Western forces already were looking for alternate supply routes.

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Last month, The Associated Press reported that NATO was close to reaching deals with Central Asian countries north of Afghanistan that would allow the alliance to truck in "non-lethal" supplies from there. NATO has reached a similar agreement with Russia that remains in force despite tensions triggered by the fighting in the former Soviet republic of Georgia this year, alliance officials said.

Separately Wednesday in the North Waziristan tribal region, residents found the bullet-riddled body of a man apparently killed by militants who accused him of being a U.S. spy, police official Gul Nawaz said.

A note attached to the victim claimed he had given information prompting a U.S. missile strike that reportedly killed a top al-Qaida operative, Nawaz said. Local media have said the operative, Abu Jihad al-Masri, died in a strike in October, but officials have not confirmed the accounts. The United States has described al-Masri as al-Qaida's propaganda chief.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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