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Militants burn NATO fuel tankers in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD – Dozens of militants armed with guns and gasoline bombs attacked a truck terminal in northwestern Pakistan on Thursday and burned five tanker trucks carrying fuel to NATO troops in Afghanistan, police said.

NATO and U.S. commanders are seeking alternative transport routes into landlocked Afghanistan amid mounting assaults on the critical main supply line through Pakistan.

Militants attacked the truck depot near the city of Peshawar before dawn, hurling gasoline bombs which set fire to the five tankers, said Abdul Khan, a local police official.

Security guards fled and the assailants made their escape before police arrived, Khan said. Several truckers drove their vehicles out of the terminal to save them from the flames, which were later doused by firefighters, he said.

NATO and the U.S. military insist that their losses on the transport route remain minimal and have had no impact on their expanding operations in Afghanistan. Most of the fuel for U.S. troops in Afghanistan comes from Central Asia.

However, a series of attacks on terminals as well as on convoys heading through the nearby Khyber Pass into Afghanistan have contributed to concern that militants could paralyze or even seize control of northwestern Pakistan.

The government faces stiff criticism at home and abroad for striking a peace deal that includes the introduction of Islamic law in the nearby Swat Valley, from where Taliban militants appear to be expanding their authority.

Officials and witnesses said Wednesday that Taliban gunmen were mounting patrols, broadcasting sermons and spreading fear in the Buner district, just south of Swat and only 60 miles (100 kilometers) from Islamabad.

President Asif Ali Zardari approved the peace pact last week in hopes of calming Swat, where some two years of clashes between the Taliban and security forces have killed hundreds and displaced up to a third of the valley’s 1.5 million residents.

Critics, including in Washington, have warned that Swat could become a base for allies of al-Qaida — and might be the first domino in nuclear-armed Pakistan to fall to the Taliban.

Supporters of the deal say it will allow the government to marginalize hard-liners and gradually reassert control by taking away the militants’ rallying cry for Islamic law.

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