Deadly Attack at Indian Air Base Leaves 4 More Soldiers Dead

Akash Vashishtha
160103-militant-follow-620 Indian Army soldiers take position along the perimeter of the Indian Air Force Base in Pathankot.

In a combing operation that continued through the night to flush out suspected Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) militants from a key military installation in northern India’s Punjab state, four more security men lost their lives Sunday.

Four terrorists have been gunned down since an unknown number of intruders, armed with hand grenades and AK-47 assault rifles, launched an attack on an Indian Air Force (IAF) base in Pathankot, some 40 km (25 miles) from the Pakistan border, at 3:30 a.m. Saturday.

Previously, officials claimed the number of terrorists killed to be five. However, an IAF official confirmed to BenarNews late on Sunday that four militants had been gunned down and “at least two more were holed up inside the air base,” with intermittent firing taking place at regular intervals, as of press time.

The Pathankot Air Force Station is a strategic air base for the northwestern part of India, which shares its border with Pakistan, with whom it has had bitter relations since the post-Independence partition of 1947.

A total of seven security personnel have been killed since suspected JeM operatives entered India from Pakistan’s Bahawalpur area on Dec. 31.

According to intelligence sources, the militants, who allegedly received training under their handlers Abdul Rauf Asghar, Ashfaq Ahmad and Qasim Khan in Pakistan, planned to destroy the MiG21 fighters and Mi-35 attack helicopters that are housed in the base.

Military operation continues

The IAF official said the bodies of the four slain terrorists had been recovered and the operation to neutralize at least two more terrorists was on-going.

“The operation is still on. Even if they are killed, the bodies have to be recovered and identified as terrorists,” Wing Commander Rochelle De Silva, IAF public relations officer, told BenarNews.

“The nation is proud of its brave security forces who have always (risen) to the occasion. I salute our forces on successful operation in (Pathankot). We have also lost security personnel in Pathankot attack. My heartfelt condolences to their families. We can never forget their sacrifice,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted on Sunday.

Later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had made a surprise visit to Pakistan on Dec. 25 in a bid to smooth long strained ties, chaired a high-level meeting with the National Security Adviser and the Foreign Secretary among other officials to establish a fresh diplomatic approach.

Singh had told reporters on Saturday that even though India was “all for peace with its neighbors, it would not tolerate terrorism” and that “this attack will get a befitting reply.”

Survivors told Indian news channels they had heard the attackers say they had come to India to avenge the death of Kashmir resident Afzal Guru, who was executed in 2013 for his role in the daring 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament house in Delhi.

The attack, which killed 14 people, including eight Indian security personnel, was orchestrated in tandem by the JeM and Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based terror outfit.

Security increased at public places

As the operation to flush out militants from the Pathankot air base continues well into midnight, India was at its highest alert, with security being beefed up at public places in all major metropolitans.

A security analyst said it was necessary to catch these intruders alive instead of gunning them down.

“Every time Pakistan asks for evidence, India remains blank. Though terrorists deserve no mercy and security forces are the best judge, still the effort should be to nab the terrorists alive and not eliminate them as the government’s spokesmen are vociferously saying on television,” policy analyst and senior lawyer Amit Khemka told BenarNews.

“To trace the real links of the terror network, it is essential that they be captured alive. The government should not talk in a shallow manner and there is a need for a very thorough investigation. A very strong intelligence unit needs to be set up in the country,” he said.


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