7:35 PM EDT UPDATE
This is still a fog-of-war situation, with various news organizations providing different versions of the number of casualties, the distance of the depot from Islamabad, etc.
The attack occurred in the Tarnol police jurisdiction on Tuesday night; times given for the attack range from about 11:00pm to midnight local time.
According to AFP, the depot is located 15 kilometres (10 miles) "outside the Pakistani capital on the road to the northwestern city of Peshawar and in turn towards the main NATO supply route into neighbouring Afghanistan."
The first report from Pakistan's The Nation (see below) places the depot 50 km (31 miles) southwest of Islamabad.
The Times of India places the depot "around three kilometers from Islamabad."
The discrepancies in the distance might stem from how reporters are figuring the boundaries of the capital city, where the depot is located in the Tarnol jurisdiction, etc. In any event the depot is close to the outskirts of Islamabad, which means it's also close to the garrison city of Rawalpindi, Islamabad's 'sister' city. What's unprecendented about the attack on the Nato convoy depot is that it's the first to occur so close to those cities.
According to the first report from The Nation (see my original post, below), the attack resulted in the torching of at least 50 Nato oil tankers, supply trucks, armored vehicles, and heavy equipment. The Nation's latest report (below) is that the majority of torched vehicles were 30 oil tankers, which seem to have been the main target of the attackers.
The depot was guarded by a private company, which isn't named in any of the reports I've seen.
Here's the latest version of The Nation's report on the attack this one was filed by Kashif Abbasi; no time stamp is provided (photo from The Nation):
ISLAMABAD - More than 30 NATO vehicles, mostly oil tankers, were destroyed completely when terrorists attacked them near Islamabad Toll Plaza on late Tuesday night, while some five persons died and 11 others got injured in the attack.Pakistan's GEO-tv website report "Updated at 0445 PST" recounts several tactical aspects of the attack as described by a police source. (H/T Long War Journal). From the report, and contrary to my original guess that the victims were sleeping in the trucks, the convoy was readying to pull out of the depot when it was attacked.
Police sources informed that the death toll might rise. The sources revealed that a group of around 20 terrorists riding on two double cabins vehicles and motorbikes was involved in this incident.
According to details, the NATO containers were parked near an oil depot when some terrorists at first sprinkled oil and later opened indiscriminate fire on them. The sources revealed that owing to intense firing, trucks caught fire.
The incident took place at Sangjani area, a suburb area of the Federal Capital falling in the jurisdiction of Tarnol Police Station. Police sources informed that 63 NATO trucks loaded with goods and oil were parked on the site of attack. After the attack, thousands of litres of fuel spilled over the road.
Soon after the attack, heavy contingent of police rushed towards the site and launched a massive search operation in nearby areas.
The vehicles of Rescue 115 and CDA fire brigade rushed towards the spot and started rescue operation. Rescue operation was underway till filing of this report.
The Long War Journal also linked to a June 4 report from Pakistan's Daily News that the Punjab government had decided to close down all unauthorized NATO supply terminals in the province over security fears.
[..] Official sources reveal the decision has been taken after intelligence agencies warned that terrorists are planning to attack NATO supply terminals in several areas of Punjab, including Attock and Mianwali. Security agencies have also warned the Punjab government that most of these miscreants are now present in these areas, and have already carried out a number of attacks. In one such attack on April 24 near Chakwal, terrorists set fire to 12 NATO tankers, and killed four policemen who were on guard duty. The attackers have still not been traced and are believed to be planning more attacks.This suggests the "authorized" Nato depot that came under attack last night would have been on high alert. Yet according to the GEO.tv report cited above:
After receiving the intelligence report, the Punjab government has decided to close down all NATO terminals in the province that have been set up without the authorisation of the provincial government and the Interior Ministry. The Punjab government has issued instructions to all district police officers in this regard.
Inspector General of Islamabad Police Syed Kaleem Imam told Geo news [...] that the suppliers of Nato had very poor security in goods loading yard, which caused this attack on their supplies.I'll end this update by noting that the first report from The Nation is the only one that quotes eyewitnesses, who estimated the number of attackers at more than 40. All other reports I've seen so far (including two subsequent ones from The Nation) quote police estimates ranging from 10-20 attackers.
“They had their own security system in place and we (Islamabad Police) were not approached for providing them any protection,” Kaleem Imam said.
There have been so many attacks on Nato convoys in Pakistan's northwest and southwest that they're routine. But this is the first time such an attack has occurred near Pakistan's capital. So in addition to the intent to inflict damage, it seems the attackers were sending a message to the ISAF.
It's still a fog-of-war situation; there are conflicting details on the number of attackers and casualties. According to the first report from The Nation about the attack, the casualties were "the drivers of the trucks, their helpers or local people." The victims were probably sleeping in the trucks. If the account holds up, where were the guards? Taking a tea break? Or did they flee when they saw the attackers approach?
The first report has been superseded by an updated one (same url). The first report gave two versions of the number of attackers: Eyewitnesses put the number at more than 40 "armed with rocket launchers, hand grenades and automatic guns." And the police chief's version: "some 10 armed men, who came in vehicles and riding motorcycles."
The updated report omits the eyewitness descriptions and quotes only the police chief's slightly altered version: "10 to 12 attackers riding motorbikes and a pickup truck."
It seems to me that 40+ attackers would have a hard time keeping a low profile, even late at might. Which again might raise questions about where the guards were -- and perhaps the police, as well. While you're running for your life, you still might think to ring up the nearest police station on your cell. Hi. Just wanted to let you to know a small army with rocket launchers has appeared at the Nato depot a few miles from where you are.
Alright, Pundita; that's enough.
The second version also mentions that an inquiry has been launched and that the interior minister wants a report on the inquiry on his desk in three days, and that "Tehrik-e-Taliban Punjab has accepted the responsibility of the attack through calls made to several media representatives and said that such attacks would continue in the future."
Here is the first version of the report from The Nation:
Fire fighters have succeeded to extinguish the fire set on NATO supplies trucks by suspected militants at a terminal near Islamabad on late Tuesday night.
Fire fighters were called from Islamabad and the garrison city of Rawalpindi to control the fire and they succeeded to control blaze after five-hour efforts, officials said.
Islamabad police chief Kalim Imam said that six people were killed while six others injured when a group of gunmen fired and then torched tankers and containers carrying supplies and oil for NATO forces in Afghanistan.
"Seven deaths have been confirmed. Four are injured. There is no information about any arrests," said police official Gustasab Khan. The casualties were the drivers of the trucks, their helpers or local people, he said.
The attack took place in a parking lot at Tarnol area, some 50 kilometers southwest of Islamabad, at around 11:30 p.m. local time.
Doctors at the Islamabad's Institute of Medical Sciences said that eight bodies were brought to the hospital. They were drivers and helpers who died from burn injures. Six people were injured and two of them in critical condition, hospital sources said.
Police said that some 50 oil tankers and supplies trucks with armored vehicles and heavy machinery were attacked.
Suspected militants regularly launch attacks on NATO supplies tankers in Pakistan's northwest and southwest but it is the first time that supplies trucks came under attack near Islamabad.
Kalim Imam said that some 10 armed men, who came in vehicles and riding motorcycles, arrived at a terminal for NATO supplies trucks at Sangjani, a small town some 50 kilometers southwest to Islamabad, and opened fire and torched the vehicles.
Witnesses said that there were over 40 attackers, armed with rocket launchers, hand grenades and automatic guns.
The attackers fled after the incident, police said. A search operation was launched in the area shortly after the attack and 26 suspects were arrested, the police chief said.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack but Taliban militants had regularly taken responsibility for such attacks.
The attack in the outskirts of the capital raised concerns over the security situation and also highlighted the capability of the suspected militants to launch attacks despite high security.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik took serious note of the attack near Islamabad and ordered inquiry into the incident, the Interior Ministry said. He asked the police chief to submit a report within three days.
A senior police officer Hakim Khan was suspended for security lapse, police sources said.
Sources in the Interior Ministry say that NATO is responsible for the security of its vehicles, adding that the terminal was run by a private company.
Officials say that some 70 percent supplies are transported through Pakistan for over 100,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Sources say that oil and other supplies for NATO forces are brought to Sangjani from Karachi, which are dispatched to Afghanistan from there.
Pakistan had been a short route to transport oil and other supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan under an agreement between the U.S. and Pakistan. But the route had never been completely secure as trucks usually come under attack.
The U.S. has already struck agreements with Russia and some Central Asia states for alternate supply route but analysts say the Russian route is long.[...]