ATTOCK: Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on Thursday claimed responsibility of the attack on Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) Minhas airbase at Kamra, DawnNews reported.

During the early hours of Thursday, heavily armed militants stormed the PAF Minhas airbase  sparking an intense gun battle lasting almost five hours.

The militants were said to be armed with automatic weapons, grenades and suicide vests. Intense exchange of fire between militants and security forces ensued after the attackers infiltrated the base, located in Attock, Punjab.

PAF officials confirmed that they have killed eight attackers. One Pakistani soldier also lost his life in the attack, the officials added.

The base has been cleared. The operation has been completed,” a PAF spokesman said.

It was not immediately clear how the attackers managed to enter the sprawling base this time.

Although the attack took place at about 2 am, it is likely many of the soldiers on the base were awake for prayers or breakfast during the fasting month of Ramazan.

The gunmen disguised themselves in uniforms and got inside the facility will renew questions about security, particularly at a base which has been attacked twice before.

“Other miscreants then fired RPGs from outside the base boundary wall. As a result one PAF aircraft got damaged,” the air force said in a statement.

Gunfire, rocket and hand grenade explosions were heard during heavy clashes. One officer told AFP that he saw flames after waking up for his pre-dawn meal.

“There was an announcement by megaphone for soldiers not to move from the barracks and we were forbidden from going to the area where I saw the fire,” he said. Special forces and police were scrambled to the scene.

“Eight terrorists have been killed and one security official martyred,” an Air Force spokesman told AFP.

“The attackers were wearing security force uniforms but I can’t specify of which force uniform they were wearing,” he added.
At least seven of the attackers were wearing suicide vests.

Faheemullah Khan, a civilian who lives near the base, said he was at a mosque praying when he heard gunfire and explosions which he thought were military exercises.

“Then we came to a restaurant, which is next to the main entrance to the base, and heard a louder explosion,” he said.

“We saw six police vans rush in, and realised something was wrong.”

Several squadrons of fighters and surveillance planes are believed to be housed there.

“One body of a suicide bomber strapped with explosives has been found close to the impact area,” said an air force statement.

Base commander, Air Commodore Muhammad Azam, who led the operation against the attackers, was wounded, but is in stable condition, said the spokesman.

One other security official also received injuries.

“Security personnel are now in the process of scanning the entire area to check for the presence of any other miscreant,” said the spokesman.

During the search operation, the officials disabled two landmines which were planted in the area.

Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt has ordered investigations of the incident.

Air Chief Marshal summoned a meeting today at Air headquarter Islamabad to analyse the situation after the attack and to mull over the initial intelligence reports. The meeting would be attended by top leadership of Pakistan Air Force.

Chief of Kamra aeronautical complex and Base Commander will brief the meeting.

Officials also said that one of aircraft at the base was damaged in the attack, which appeared to have been targeted at the PAF’s fighter jets parked at the Minhas base. Air Force officials confirmed that over 30 planes parked, including state-of-the-art JF-17 Thunder fighter jets.

Three to four of the militants wore military uniforms, officials said, adding that the attackers were between 19 to 33 years of age. It was also reported earlier that some of the militants wore suicide vests.

A joint search operation of security forces and police inside and outside the base was launched. PAC Hospital Kamra was also put on high alert following the attack.

The militants were reported to have attacked the base from Pind Salman Makhan village at around 2:30 am, sources said. When security officials at the check-post attempted to halt them, the militants opened fire. An intense gun battle lasting hours followed. Commandos of the Army and PAF were engaged in the operation against the attackers.

Earlier, Tehrik-iTaliban TTP  spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan had declined to comment on the incident.

Kamra is located about 70 kms from the Pakistani capital Islamabad. The Minhas airbase is a heavily guarded compound with the Pakistan Air Force’s Kamra Aeronautical Complex in its vicinity, where Pakistan assembles and overhauls JF-17 Thunder fighter jets in collaboration with China. According to reports, at least 11 Chinese engineers were working at the Kamra Aeronautical Complex.

All Chinese and others foreign engineers and technicians involved in co-production of Chinese and Pakistan JF-17 Thunder aircraft project were shifted to a high profile secure location, sources told, adding that the engineers were not present near the attack area. Sources confirmed that at least 30 aircraft were on the base.

The government and military’s top leadership, including President Asif Ali Zardari, Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaque Pervez Kayani and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf were notified of the attack, and the operation was being closely monitored by the army chief.

In recent weeks, military intelligence had warned of the possibility of such an attack on military installations. However, there was no specific information about an attack being targeted at the Kamra base.

This is not the first time that Kamra has been the target of a militant attack.  On Oct 23, 2009, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance of the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex in Kamra. Two security officers and six other people were killed in the attack.

Last year, six Taliban gunmen attacked a naval base in Pakistan’s biggest city Karachi to avenge the killing of Osama bin Laden. At least 10 military personnel were killed and 20 wounded in the 16-hour assault.