QUETTA/ DI KHAN:
At least 12 militants, wearing suicide vests and armed with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and automatic weapons were killed in an 11-hour gun battle near Khalid Aviation airbase and Samungli airbase in Quetta. The Thursday night assault was reminiscent of the 2012 attack on PAF Kamra airbase and the Karachi airport siege in June, officials said.
IGP Balochistan Muhammad Amlish said that security had been on high alert and the attack, which took place just three hours after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif departed from the Quetta International Airport, near the bases, could have caused significant damage and loss of life if security officials had not responded quickly. Eleven security personnel, including seven Pakistan Army soldiers, were wounded in the attack, which was claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
TTP spokesperson Azam Tariq said on Friday that the attack was in retaliation for Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan Agency. Speaking to the media via telephone, he said the attacks on both airbases were carried out by militants from different groups, including Khalid Mehsud alias Sajna’s Ishtehadi Group, Umar Khalid Khorasani’s Afia Brigade and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) suicide bombers under TTP Commander Salar Mehsud.
“The government initiated the drama of peace talks and later held the Taliban responsible for its failure,” the TTP spokesperson said. “In fact, it was the government’s plan to initiate military action and displace tribesmen.”
Security officials in Balochistan confirmed that the modus operandi in this attack, which lasted from 8:00pm on Thursday until 7:00am on Friday, matched that of attacks on the Karachi airport and terror attacks in Peshawar.
Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt visited the airbase on Friday, where he was briefed about the attack. “The terrorists were kept to the outer wall of Khalid airbase,” Commander Southern Command Lt Gen Naseer Janjua said. “The terrorists were in two groups. Six militants attacked Samungli airbase and another six attacked Khalid airbase, in which they did not succeed.” He showed members of the media rocket launchers, RPGs, automatic weapons, hand grenades and suicide vests belonging to the attackers. The bodies of the attackers were still present at the time.
Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch said the attack was expected and security forces were prepared. “An army officer said he never heard such continuous and intense firing during his last two years of service in Quetta,” he said. Dr Malik announced Rs2 million for those injured in the attack. “The army and the government had received intelligence about the attack before the terrorists carried it out. All assets are safe,” Lt Gen Janjua said. He added that none of the attackers fled the scene and all 12 were killed on the spot.
Seven army soldiers, two police personnel, an ATF solider and an FC official were wounded in an exchange of fire on Thursday night. “There was intense firing followed by huge explosions until the morning,” said Masoom Ali, a resident of Killi Khezi. “We could not sleep until the morning.”
Two rockets exploded inside the base but no damage was reported. The bases are located in highly guarded areas with a huge deployment of army and security forces and civilians are not allowed here.
“Police, Balochistan Levies, FC, Balochistan Constabulary and Pakistan Army showed great coordination during the operation,” Lt Gen Janjua said. He added that the people of Balochistan are cooperating with the security forces, which is commendable. “This is the first time that security forces were informed by locals,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 16th, 2014.