While militants were previously successful in storming an army installation (GHQ) and a Naval base (Mehran), which were both held hostage for a number of hours, the third and often-ignored branch of the military, the air force, effectively stymied a similar raid on its key base.
Nine heavily-armed militants attempted to infiltrate Pakistan Air Force (PAF) Minhas base, a vital installation located in Kamra, outside Attock. However, the audacious raid inflicted little physical damage compared to similar endeavours in the past few years.
The Pakistan Air Force said nine attackers, dressed in military fatigues and armed with rocket propelled-grenades and suicide vests, targeted the base and the adjacent Pakistan Aeronautical Complex at 2am, local time.
The militants moved through a nearby village, Pind Makhan, and climbed a
nine foot wall strung with barbed wire to break into the base, sources said. However, they were immediately engaged by a security personnel, deployed at a watchtower along the boundary wall, who informed his colleagues.
The militants, most of whom were strapped with suicide bomb vests, were unable to cross the inner security cordon. They were engaged in an operation that lasted about 20 minutes, sources in the PAF said. The attack left one air force security guard, sepoy Asif Ramzan dead, besides the nine militants, and an aircraft slightly damaged.
The pre-dawn assault, promptly claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP), came days after reports surfaced of Pakistan’s willingness to launch an operation in the restive and largely-untouched North Waziristan agency – known to be a hotbed of local and foreign militants.
“There was an announcement by megaphone for soldiers not to move from the barracks,” said an officer. Special forces and police scrambled to the scene.
Security forces opened fire when militants approached aircraft hangars, prompting other militants to fire rocket-propelled grenades from outside the base’s walls, said the air force spokesperson.
“Eight miscreants were killed inside the Minhas base boundary wall and one miscreant exploded himself outside the perimeters where he was hiding,” the air force said. It said there had been a shootout “for more than two hours” and 10 hours after the assault began, spokesperson Tariq Mahmood confirmed the base was “totally safe”.
About an hour later, a series of small explosions could be heard as improvised explosive devices planted on the base by the militants were successfully control-detonated by the military. Base commander Air Commodore Muhammad Azam, who led the operation against the attackers, was shot in the shoulder, but is in stable condition, said spokesman Captain Tariq Mahmood.
The Pakistani Taliban promptly claimed responsibility for the attack and said the planes at the base were being used to kill its fighters.
Spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan dedicated the attack to late al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and claimed four Taliban fighters were killed after destroying three aircraft and killing a dozen soldiers.
“We are proud of this operation. Our leadership had decided to attack Kamra base a long time ago,” Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said by telephone from an undisclosed location.
Despite the infiltration, the militants were able to inflict little damage at the key base. Sources said that was possibly because the base was already on red alert due to intelligence reports of imminent attack received earlier. Previous Taliban assaults on Pakistani military bases have exacted far higher casualty tolls. In May 2011, for instance, it took 17 hours to quell an attack on an air base in Karachi claimed by the Taliban. The complex, located halfway between Islamabad and Peshawar on the GT Road, assembles Mirage and, with Chinese assistance, JF-17 fighter jets.
It also houses the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, a major air force research and development centre. Other installations in the area include the AK Regiment camp in Mansar, the SSG base and Artillery headquarters in Attock.
The air force spokesman, however, said that the Minhas air base did not house nuclear weapons. “No air base is a nuclear air base in Pakistan,” he said. The base at Kamra has previously come under attack twice, once in 2007 and then in 2009. A suicide bomber had killed eight people in an attack on a check post outside the base on October 23, 2009. In December 2007, a suicide bomber had targeted a school bus and injured at least five children of employees at the base.
Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt appointed a five-member inquiry committee headed by Air Marshal Syed Athar Hussain Bukhari. He also announced Rs1 million for the family of martyred sepoy Asif Ramzan.
Correction: An earlier version of the aircraft was incorrectly captioned as the photo of an IL-78 aircraft. The correction has been made.
(Read: Attack on PAF base in Kamra)
Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2012.
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