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Pakistan cuts Nato supply line

Pakistan has blocked a vital supply route for US and Nato troops in Afghanistan in apparent retaliation for an alleged cross-border helicopter strike by the coalition that killed three Pakistani frontier troops.

The blockade appeared to be a major escalation in tensions between Pakistan and the United States.

A permanent stoppage of supply trucks would place massive strains on the relationship between the two countries and hurt the Afghan war effort. Even a short halt is a reminder of the leverage Pakistan has over the United States at a crucial time in the nine-year war.

By Thursday morning, a line of around 100 Nato vehicles was waiting to cross the border into Afghanistan, officials said. "We will have to see whether we are allies or enemies," Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said of the border incident, without mentioning the blockade.

Nato said it was investigating Pakistani reports that coalition aircraft had mistakenly attacked its forces. The coalition has on at least one other occasion acknowledged mistakenly killing Pakistani security forces stationed close to the border.

Over the weekend, Nato helicopters fired on targets in Pakistan at least twice, killing several suspected insurgents they had pursued over the border from Afghanistan. Pakistan's government protested against the attacks, which came in a month during which there have been an unprecedented number of US drone missile strikes in the north-west, inflaming already pervasive anti-American sentiment among Pakistanis.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told visiting CIA director Leon Panetta in Islamabad that Pakistan was "profoundly concerned" about the missile strikes and helicopter incursions. "Pakistan being a front-line ally in the war against terror expects its partners to respect its territorial sovereignty," he said, according to a statement from his office.

The surge in attacks and apparent increased willingness by Nato to attack targets on the border, or just inside Pakistan, could be a sign the coalition is losing patience with Pakistan, which has long been accused of harbouring militants in its lawless tribal regions.

Pakistani security officials said Thursday's airstrike took place on a checkpoint in the Upper Kurram region.

The dead men were from a paramilitary force tasked with safeguarding the border, the security officials said. Their bodies were taken to Parachinar, the region's largest town, one official said. Three troops also were wounded. Several hours later, officials reported another rocket strike by Nato helicopters about nine miles from the first one. There were no injuries.

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