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First NATO trucks cross Pakistan border after 7-month closure

Mujeeb Ahmed / NBC News

Trucks at a border checkpoint in Chaman, Pakistan, carry supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan on Thursday, July 5, 2012.

CHAMAN, Pakistan - A pair of trucks carrying NATO supplies crossed into Afghanistan on Thursday, Pakistani customs officials said, the first time in more than seven months that Pakistan has allowed Western nations to use its roads to supply troops in Afghanistan.

Customs officials said the container trucks passed through the Chaman border crossing into southern Afghanistan, a milestone following a deal this week with the United States ending the impasse triggered by the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers by U.S. aircraft last November.


"We received orders yesterday to allow NATO supply trucks through, but security officials hadn't received their instructions," said Imran Raza, a customs official.

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"They received their orders today, and now two trucks have crossed the border into Afghanistan."

The resumption of NATO transit into Afghanistan came two days after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, yielding to Pakistani demands, told Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar the United States was sorry for the deaths last November.

Arshad Arbab / EPA

A man reads about Pakistan's agreement to reopen NATO supply at a newspaper stall in Peshawar on Wednesday.

In response to the killing of the soldiers in a border post, a furious Islamabad shut the supply routes.

For months, the Obama administration refused Pakistani demands to offer an apology for what NATO said was a regrettable accident.

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The closure forced NATO countries to bring supplies into landlocked Afghanistan through an alternate route to the north, a cumbersome process that cost 2 1/2 times as much as shipping them to and then across Pakistan.

Thousands of waiting trucks
In the port city of Karachi, drivers were preparing for the trip. Thousands of trucks and tankers have been stuck at ports in Karachi waiting for the transit ban to be lifted. 

"Today almost after eight months NATO supply has been started. I am taking NATO cargo to Peshawar,  where this cargo will be shifted to trailers taking the same to Kabul," said driver Javed Iqbal. 

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The chairman of Port Qasim, Mohammad Shafi, said Thursday that more than 2,500 NATO containers and vehicles have been held at the facility since the blockade began. 

Authorities in Islamabad have announced that NATO may resume transporting military supplies into Afghanistan from Pakistan. NBC's Amna Nawaz has more on the story.

Getting them back on the road will take time, Shafi said, because of paperwork and customs clearance procedures. 

"Once we do that, we will be able to let the supplies leave for Afghanistan," he said. 

The journey is a perilous one, as the Taliban and other militant groups have threatened to attack supply vehicles in Pakistani territory. Before the closure, hundreds of supply trucks, which travel in convoys, were targeted in different areas of the country. 

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U.S. officials had expected the first trucks carrying NATO supplies to begin crossing into Afghanistan on Wednesday, but bureaucratic delays held that up. 

The reopening could save the U.S. hundreds of millions of dollars, since Pakistan's blockade forced Washington to rely more heavily on a longer, costlier route that leads into Afghanistan through Central Asia. Pakistan is also expected to gain financially, since the U.S. intends to free up $1.1 billion in military aid that has been frozen for the past year. 

The routes, which supply U.S. troops with everything they need to survive, were reopened after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Pakistan 'We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military." NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reports.

But the deal carries risks for both governments. 

Pakistan is facing domestic backlash, given rampant anti-American sentiment in the country and the government's failure to force the U.S. to stop drone strikes targeting militants and accede to other demands made by parliament. 

President Barack Obama, in the midst of a re-election battle, faces criticism from Republicans who are angry his administration apologized to a country allegedly giving safe haven to militants attacking American troops in Afghanistan. 

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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