Afghanistan's top security officials are urging President Hamid Karzai to establish a military-run trucking system to take control of critical NATO supply routes now protected by a ragtag network of unsavory private security firms that is scheduled to be disbanded by year-end.

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s top security officials are urging President Hamid Karzai to establish a military-run trucking system to take control of critical NATO supply routes now protected by a ragtag network of unsavory private security firms that is scheduled to be disbanded by year-end.

With the Karzai-imposed deadline looming to close the private convoy-protection companies, Afghanistan officials said Sunday that they want to create a state-run military brigade equipped with its own trucks and thousands of soldiers to carry essential NATO supplies around the country.

But Afghan leaders have yet to figure out how to confront the most vexing issue facing Afghan supply routes: how to co-opt powerful local highway barons who alternatively protect and attack NATO convoys, depending on whether or not they are paid to look after the supply routes.

Creation of a state-controlled trucking system could be the next step in Afghanistan’s efforts to adequately protect NATO supply routes from constant attacks that threaten convoys that supply such essentials as ammunition and food for the 150,000 U.S.-led troops battling Taliban-led insurgents.

If Karzai approves the proposal, Afghanistan could create a military brigade with as many as 5,000 troops to protect the NATO convoys, said Gen. Abdul Razak Amiri, the Afghanistan Interior Ministry’s deputy director of counterterrorism.

Protecting NATO supply routes has re-emerged as a central issue in recent days because of new attempts by anti-Western forces to sabotage the convoy network, which runs from Karachi, Pakistan, through the Khyber Pass and into Afghanistan.

Last Thursday, the Pakistan government blocked NATO trucks heading into Afghanistan after U.S. helicopters apparently killed three Pakistani paramilitary soldiers during an attack on a Frontier Corps base on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

The next day, insurgents in Pakistan attacked a convoy of NATO fuel trucks headed for the Afghan border and set fire to more than two dozen of them.

Suspected militants attacked and set fire to at least 20 tankers carrying oil for NATO and U.S. troops in Afghanistan on Monday, the third such strike inside Pakistan in as many days, police said. The attack took place not far from the capital, Islamabad.

Police officer Umer Hayat said three people were killed and blamed Monday’s attack on “terrorists.”

The trucks were en route or waiting to travel to the Torkham border crossing along the fabled Khyber Pass, which is used to bring fuel, military vehicles, spare parts, clothing and other nonlethal supplies for foreign troops in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s other main route into landlocked Afghanistan, in Chaman in the southwest, has remained open.

While NATO and the United States have alternative supply routes into Afghanistan, the Pakistani ones are the cheapest and most convenient. Most of the coalition’s nonlethal supplies are transported over Pakistani soil after being unloaded at docks in Karachi, a port city in the south.

The new attacks have put increased strains on the U.S.-led military coalition, which has been tried — with limited success — to reduce its reliance on the Pakistan supply route. About half of the military supplies run through Pakistan.

On the Afghan side of the border, Karzai has shaken up the supply system by ordering the abolishment of dozens of convoy protection firms, which employ more than 25,000 people.

The network of Afghan firms has been accused of attacking NATO convoys if they are not paid to protect them, of recklessly killing civilians while trying to protect convoys from attack, and of paying insurgents with U.S. money for passage through areas they control.

“It’s difficult,” said Abdel Manan Farahi, a top adviser to the Afghan Interior Ministry. “If they believe they have lost their power, they will attack.”

Additional information from The Associated Press