Militants stormed Pakistan’s main air force base yesterday near the capital of Islamabad, sparking a gun battle that killed all nine attackers as the country prepares for a fresh offensive against the Taliban.
The early morning raid on Kamra airbase, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Islamabad, triggered a firefight that lasted more than two hours and killed eight militants, a security official and damaged one aircraft, according to Air Force spokesman Tariq Mahmood. The ninth militant blew himself up outside the base, according to a statement by the Air Force.
The raid on Kamra is at least the third attack against security forces in Punjab province since Pakistan agreed last month to reopen supply routes for North Atlantic Treaty Organization vehicles into Afghanistan after a seven-month ban. U.S. and Pakistani forces have been at odds over how to fight Islamic extremists as President Barack Obama’s administration winds down its 11-year war in Afghanistan.
“This attack is basically an attempt by militants to hit at the core of Pakistan’s military assets so that they can demoralize them before they launch any major operation,” said Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the independent Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad. “This also reflects badly on the Pakistani intelligence agencies, which have failed many times to pre-empt such attacks.”
Offensive Against Taliban
Pakistan has told U.S. military officials it is preparing a new operation against Taliban militants in North Waziristan, a tribal region bordering Afghanistan from where gunmen, including the Haqqani network, operate and attack western forces fighting in Afghanistan, the Associated Press reported on Aug. 14, citing U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
The Kamra base houses the country’s largest aeronautical complex that builds Mirage V combat aircraft and JF-17 fighters, a joint venture between Pakistan and China.
The militants who attacked the base had explosives strapped to their bodies and used rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons during the two-and-a-half hour attack, which also injured the base commander, Defense Minister Naveed Qamar said.
“Militants came with the intention to drag this battle for two or three days,” Qamar told reporters in Islamabad. “We have secured the base with minimum loss.”
The attack won’t weaken Pakistan’s resolve to fight terrorism, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said in e-mailed statement.
In a separate incident, militants attacked three passenger buses killing at least 19 passengers in the northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province yesterday, the state-run Pakistan Television reported, citing officials it didn’t identify.
Taliban guerrillas, who are opposed to the country’s alliance with the U.S., in May 2011 attacked a naval air base in Karachi and killed 10 security force members in a 16-hour gun battle that damaged two P-3C Orion aircraft.
Pakistan’s military freed 39 hostages in 2009 when security forces stormed a building in the army headquarters compound in Rawalpindi, ending a 22-hour siege by Islamic guerrillas that killed five gunmen and six soldiers.
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