Pathankot: An Indian official says six gunmen who attacked an air force base near the country’s border with Pakistan have been killed, and that an operation is underway to secure the compound. Seven Indian troops were also killed in the attack. Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar also said Tuesday that no military hardware was damaged in the fighting at the Pathankot base, which has a fleet of India’s Russian-origin MiG-21 fighter jets and Mi-25 and Mi-35 attack helicopters.
The attack began before dawn Saturday and dragged on as government troops struggled to contain the heavily armed attackers in the sprawling compound. At least twice it appeared that the attack had ended, but fresh gunfire and explosions erupted both times.
The attack took place despite early intelligence warnings. Indian forces searched Tuesday for the last of six suspected gunmen who attacked an air force base near the Pakistan border and killed seven government troops in the nearly four-day siege.
Air force spokeswoman Rochelle D’Silva said Tuesday “there has been no firing since Monday night at the base.” Indian security forces say they have killed five attackers, the fifth on Monday, and believe one remains on Pathankot air force base’s sprawling premises. In the first apparent claim of responsibility, the United Jehad Council, an alliance of 13 Kashmir-based rebel groups, claimed its “highway squad” stormed the base.
Alliance spokesman Syed Sadaqat Hussain issued a statement to Current News Service, based in the Indian portion of Kashmir, saying the attack carried a message for India that no security establishment was out of the militants’ reach. The council is based in Pakistan’s portion of Kashmir, the Himalayan region divided between the countries and claimed in its entirety by both.
Sharad Kumar, chief of India’s National Investigation Agency, said telephone intercepts suggested the attackers were from Pakistan. He did not give details in the interview with a television news channel TimesNow on Tuesday. The Pakistan Foreign Ministry said the government was in touch with the Indian government and “is working on the leads provided by it.”
“The challenge of terrorism calls for strengthening our resolve to a cooperative approach,” the statement issued Monday said.
The attack precedes a meeting between top foreign ministry bureaucrats of the two countries in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, on Jan. 15 to discuss steps to settle outstanding issues, including Kashmir.
The United Jehad Council said that by accusing Pakistan of every attack, India neither succeeded in maligning the Kashmir freedom struggle nor would it gain anything in the future. India without delay “should provide an opportunity to the people of Kashmir to decide their future,” Hussain said.
India accuses Pakistan of arming and training insurgents in its portion of Kashmir. Pakistan denies that and says it only provides moral and diplomatic support. The search operations will continue until all areas have been completely secured, Maj. Gen. Dushyant Singh, from India’s National Security Guard, told reporters. The attack began early Saturday morning and has dragged on as troops struggled to find the heavily armed attackers in the sprawling base, with forests and fields, homes for personnel based there and a school for their children.
The base has a fleet of India’s Russian-origin MiG-21 fighter jets and Mi-25 and Mi-35 attack helicopters, along with other military hardware. Officials said no military hardware was damaged in the fighting.