RAWALPINDI: Militants launched a brazen attack on the Minhas Airbase of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) at Kamra in the early hours of Thursday. Wearing suicide jackets and equipped with lethal weapons, the terrorists were thwarted by security personnel who killed them in a gun battle before they could reach their target.
This was the third attack on a military base after the attack on the GHQ on October 10, 2009 and on the Mehran Naval Base in Karachi on May 22, 2011. All nine attackers were gunned down while a security personnel, Sepoy Asif Ramzan, was martyred during the operation, the PAF spokesman confirmed. Base Commander Air Commodore Muhammad Azam was among the three security personnel who sustained injuries during the gun battle, PAF sources said, adding that an aircraft equipped with Airborne Warning and Control System (Awacs) was partially damaged when an RPG fired by the attackers hit it.
All the attackers were Pakistanis and belonged to Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an intelligence agency source confirmed. The militants used rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), hand grenades, mines and automatic weapons during the gun battle, sources said.
The SSG (Special Services Group) commandoes attached with an Anti-Terrorist Unit posted at Tarbela joined the PAF security personnel and eliminated the terrorists in a battle that lasted about six hours.
The terrorists stormed the airbase at about 2.15a.m. from the Pind Sultan Makhan side while people were busy praying on the occasion of Lailatul-Qadr and were scattered in different corners of the base, the sources said.
Security sources said the militants sneaked into the base through a barrier of barbed wires while some eyewitnesses claimed the attackers blew up the wall and stormed the premises.
Reportedly, security personnel, deployed on guard duty, retaliated and engaged the terrorists and got them on target, sources said, adding that a security man embraced martyrdom after sustaining bullets on his chest when he intercepted the raiders. An emergency was declared and the base commander came out with the force to counter the attack and cordoned off the raiders despite fierce shooting by them, the sources said. A bullet hit the base commander while two other personnel were also wounded during the shooting, they said. The security forces gradually managed to control the situation after killing all the raiders, they added.
During the gun battle, security forces found two mines in a corner of the base, which were later destroyed through a controlled blastSources said the operation against terrorists at the base entered the last stages at about 7 a.m. after all the terrorists were gunned down, following which the security forces launched a search operation on the base while the police and Rangers combed the outer side of the base and searched villages in the vicinity. They said two suspects were arrested and shifted to some unknown place for interrogation. The security agencies later cleared the base and its surroundings at 9 a.m.
Meanwhile, PAF spokesman Group Captain Tariq Mahmood said in a press release that Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt had appointed Air Marshal Syed Athar Hussain Bukhari as the president of the board of inquiry, comprising four members with various specialties.
The air chief also announced Rs1 million for the family of Sepoy Asif Ramzan, who sacrificed his life in the first line of defence while fighting against the terrorists and with outstanding audacity foiled their malicious intentions.
The PAF Directorate of Media Affairs also announced that Air Commodore Muhammad Azam, who led the operation from the front, was discharged from the hospital and was safe and stable.
Mushtaq Yusufzai adds from Peshawar: The Hakimullah Mahsud-led Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and said the decision to target the airbase had been taken long ago to avenge the killing of their people in bombing by PAF fighter jets.
“We are proud to announce that nine of our suicide bombers entered the PAF airbase in Kamra. They managed to enter the airbase from two different directions and met inside the airbase. They fought very well and died before killing 12 security personnel and causing damage to some PAF planes and other installations,” TTP spokesman Ahsanullah Ihsan told The News from an undisclosed location on Thursday. He said all the attackers were Pakistani militants.
The TTP spokesman said the decision to target the PAF airbase was taken earlier by the TTP central Shura. He said the PAF fighter jets had caused them heavy losses by bombing their sanctuaries in the tribal areas. “Our stance is very clear. Any individual or government department that causes damage to us in any form will become our target,” Ihsanullah threatened.
He said the nine suicide bombers were well aware of the area where the airbase is located.However, he declined to comment when asked if the TTP or the attackers had received any assistance from inside the airbase before planning the attack.
Agencies add: According to the PAF spokesman, a group of terrorists attacked a portion of the base, while the PAF security personnel cordoned off the area and encircled the terrorists. An intense exchange of fire took place between them and two teams of PAF Special Services Group reinforced the security personnel. The miscreants also fired RPGs from outside the boundary wall of the base, which damaged an aircraft; the remaining aircraft were safe. The spokesman said the exchange of fire continued for more than two hours in which nine miscreants strapped with suicide jackets were killed.
The attack was repelled and only one aircraft was damaged, said an air force spokesman, adding that the airbase at Kamra did not house nuclear weapons. “No airbase is a nuclear airbase in Pakistan,” he said.
Minhas Airbase, 75 km northwest of Islamabad, is adjacent to the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, a major air force research and development centre. Pakistan manufactures JF-17 fighter planes, jointly developed with China, at the site.
Suicide bombers launched attacks near the base and the aeronautical complex in 2007 and 2009, but news reports said defences were not breached.
Local police arrested nine suspects in a search operation after the Kamra base attack while Saddar Police Station in Attock started investigating the arrested suspects.
Security of all airbases across the country was beefed up after the attack. According to the Interior Ministry spokesperson, security of all airports and sensitive places was beefed up with the deployment of additional security forces at all entry gates. Additional security forces deployed at airports were equipped with modern weapons while more security cameras were installed at sensitive buildings and government installations across the four provinces as a precautionary measure.
President Asif Ali Zardari strongly condemned the attack and reiterated the government’s resolve not to be deterred by such dastardly acts. He said the government was determined to eliminate terrorism and stood firm on this stance.
In his condolence message to the family of Asif Ramzan, the president prayed to Allah Almighty to shower His blessings on the departed soul.
Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf also condemned the attack and praised the bravery and courage of the armed forces in successfully clearing the base of militants. He condoled with the family of Asif Ramzan and said he remained in constant touch with the air force high command during the unfortunate incident.
Later, the prime minister attended the funeral of Sepoy Asif Ramzan in the afternoon. Talking to Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafiq Butt on the occasion, the prime minister said the nation was proud of its armed forces. “Today we are even more determined to fight terrorism and extremism.”
Minister for Defence Syed Naveed Qamar, Minister for CADD Nazar Muhammad Gondal, Minister for Science and Technology Mir Changez Khan Jamali, Minister for Overseas Pakistanis Dr Farooq Sattar, Minister of State for Commerce Abbas Khan Afridi, Senators Muhammad Zahid Khan and Mushahid Hussain Sayed and senior government officials accompanied the prime minister at the funeral.
Talking to a private TV channel, Syed Naveed Qamar said the airbase attack is not a security lapse. He said the attack on the airbase was not a failure of the security institutions, adding that no terrorist was captured alive in the Kamra operation.
Others who condemned the attack included All Pakistan Muslim League chief Gen (R) Pervez Musharraf, Acting President Syed Nayyar Hussain Bukhari, Acting Senate Chairman Sabir Baloch, Leader of the House in Senate Jehangir Badr and Leader of the Opposition in Senate Muhammad Ishaq Dar.