ISLAMABAD: The February 6 admission by senior officials of the defence ministry that a Saab-2000 aircraft fitted with an Airborne Early Warning & Control System (AWACS) was totally destroyed in the August 15, 2012 terror attack on the Kamra airbase, implies that the concerned authorities had been keeping the tax payers in the dark for the past six months by claiming that it was only the nose cone of the precious aircraft which had been partially damaged and that it would be repaired by the manufacturers in Sweden.
The fact that the Kamra airbase raiders had completely destroyed one of the four Saab-2000 AWACS planes was made public for the first time by Additional Secretary Defence Rear Admiral Farrokh Ahmad during a meeting of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Defence on February 6, six months after the Minhas airbase at Kamra was attacked by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.
The meeting was chaired by President Zardari’s sister, Azra Fazal Pechuho, as the chairperson of the 18-member Committee. Responding to a question by Ayaz Ameer, one of the Standing Committee members, Rear Admiral Farrokh Ahmad conceded that a Saab-2000 AWACS which was parked at the Minhas airbase was completely destroyed by “miscreants” when the Kamra came under attack.
When asked by Ayaz Ameer to further enlighten the Committee on the issue, Secretary Defence Lt Gen (R) Asif Yaseen Malik admitted that one fourth early warning ability of the PAF was knocked out by the raiders with the ruining of one of the four Swedish-made Saab-2000 planes.
But the secretary defence did not respond to Ayaz’s query about the actual loss suffered by the national kitty due to the ruining of Saab-2000 AWACS. As The News asked PAF spokesman Group Captain Tariq Mahmood about the likely price of the Saab-2000, he sought a couple of days to collect the required information. Asked about the price of the Saab-2000 AWACS, a senior PAF official said while requesting anonymity that the perished plane was worth 130-140 million US dollars. But a highly placed defence ministry official differed with the figure, saying that the plane destroyed at Kamra was worth 250 million US dollars.
However, a senior defence ministry official said on the condition of anonymity that the Saab-2000 AWACS destroyed at Kamra was worth $250 million. Ayaz Ameer, a former army captain, estimated the price of Saab-2000 somewhere between 250 and 300 million US dollars.
It was on the night of August 15, 2012 that nine fidayeen attackers dressed in military uniforms and armed with rocket propelled grenades and suicide vests, stormed the Minhas airbase. Minhas remained under attack for two hours and finally culminated in the death of two PAF personnel and all the nine attackers who were successful in their mission of destroying one of the Saab-2000 AWACS planes.
TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan subsequently claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was carried out to avenge the killings of Baitullah Mehsud and Osama bin Laden. The fidayeen, Ehsan had declared, succeeded in achieving their targets and had delivered a lethal blow to the PAF. But neither Ehsan explained “the lethal blow” inflicted by TTP nor did the PAF deem it fit to concede the destruction of the Saab 2000 aircraft.
Following the attack, PAF spokesman Tariq Mahmood conceded that at least one of the rockets fired by the attackers hit a hangar holding PAF aircrafts. “The rocket pierced the hangar wall while shrapnel from the blast damaged one of the aircraft parked inside. But I cannot reveal the name of the craft… please wait for the inquiry report”, said the spokesman. But the finding of the inquiry, which was ordered by Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt and conducted by Air Marshal Athar Hussain Bukhari, has yet to be made public.
Hours after attack, Defence Minister Naveed Qamar said on August 15, 2012, that the death toll of the militants and the minimal damage caused to the base was clear proof of the preparedness of the Pakistani forces.
Talking to newsmen in Islamabad, Qamar said: “The security of the PAF was alert to retaliate in case of a possible attack and they did. The terrorists had suicide vests clasped around them and were carrying heavy arms. However, with minimum damage caused to the Pakistani assets – with only one plane damaged – the security forces were able to eliminate the terrorists.”
Naveed Qamar, however, did not mention the fact that the plane destroyed at Kamra was a Saab 2000 worth $240 million.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik was next to claim on August 17, 2012 that due to the advance warnings about a possible attack on the PAF installations, the attempt to harm the Pakistani assets at Kamra was foiled and all the attackers were killed. Kamra is one of the most important airbases of PAF which also hosts the 33 multi-role fighter wing of the PAF, one squadron of JF-17 and one squadron of FT-6 trainers. It was in October 2005 that the Pakistan government had struck a deal to purchase five Saab-2000 planes.
The first of these was delivered to the PAF on December 29, 2009, and the second one in April 2011, which was followed by two others. And the prime aim of the TTP fidayeen was to locate and destroy one such valuable plane which was parked at Minhas airbase.