Washington (AFP) – The U.S. military suspended shipments of equipment out of Afghanistan through Pakistan, citing protests that posed a risk to truck drivers, officials said.
The move came after club-wielding activists in northwest Pakistan forcibly searched trucks for NATO supplies in protest over U.S. drone strikes in the tribal belt.
“We have voluntarily halted U.S. shipments of retrograde cargo through the Pakistan Ground Line of Communication (GLOCC) from Torkham Gate through Karachi,” said Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright in a statement.
Wright 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.
The delay in removing the equipment is just the latest hitch in a deeply troubled relationship between Pakistan and the United States.
Relations have been particularly fraught since CIA drone missile attacks in Pakistan which have raised tensions with Islamabad and sparked public outrage.
US officials said trucks have been told to wait for now in holding areas in Afghanistan.
“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 AFP.
The United States has alternative routes available to the north through Central Asia, though those options take longer and are more expensive.