Pathankot Attack: Six Terrorists Killed, Operation Still Underway To Secure Air Base

05/01/2016 8:51 AM IST | Updated 29/08/2016 9:03 PM IST
An Indian army soldier is silhouetted against the setting sun as he stands guard next to his colleague, sitting on the roof top of a house outside the Indian air force base in Pathankot, India, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Indian troops were still battling at least two gunmen Sunday evening at the air force base near the country's border with Pakistan, more than 36 hours after the compound came under attack, a top government official said. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)

Four days after a group of terrorists attacked a heavily-guarded Indian air base 25 km from the border with Pakistan, reports on Tuesday suggested that all six gunmen have been killed. However an operation is still underway to fully secure the Pathankot air base 60 hours after the pre-dawn swoop by suspected Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists.

Seven military personnel have been also killed and 22 wounded. Times of India reported that operation was on till late on Monday late night to ensure that no dormant terrorist launches a fresh attack.

Alarmingly, Punjab police is said to have had an input that 15 terrorists have infiltrated India on new year. The body of the sixth attacker is yet to be retrieved from the vacant barack where they were hiding out. According to reports, no firing has been heard since 7:30pm yesterday.

The attacks are being seen as a lapse in security and response time after an alert by a police superintendent whose car had been hijacked by the gunmen dressed in army fatigues, was not taken seriously. Police Superintendent Salwinder Singh's call to a colleague in the early hours of Friday morning, after his car was hijacked, was at first treated as a case of armed robbery, the officer who answered the phone said. His colleagues' slowness to react is being seen as one of several security lapses.

"The truth is that we did not take Singh's complaint seriously, because his record has not been clean," a second senior officer in the Punjab police told Reuters.

Singh had just been transferred after a woman constable filed a sexual harassment case against him.

"Too much time was wasted," AS Dulat, a former head of the Research & Analysis Wing, India's main foreign intelligence agency, told Reuters. "How did they infiltrate to where they did? How were they allowed to roam around for 24 hours?"

The search operations at Pathankot air force base will continue until all areas have been completely secured, Maj. Gen. Dushyant Singh, from India's elite National Security Guard, told reporters yesterday.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said it is working on the leads provided by the Indian government on the attack "in line with Pakistan's commitment to effectively counter and eradicate terrorism".

Four attackers were killed by Saturday evening, and at least two were said to have been exchanging gunfire with troops as of Monday morning. Defense officials have said authorities had been alerted about a potential attack in the area on Friday, and that aerial surveillance at the base spotted the gunmen as they entered the compound, leading to criticism of the handling of the situation.

Singh told reporters in Pathankot that it will take a "long time" to declare the base completely secure because of its size and geography. It is spread over more than 2,000 acres, including forests and tall grass.

The commanding officer of the base, Lt. Col. J.S. Dhamoon, described it as a "mini-city" with homes and a school for the children of the personnel stationed there. An army statement said the last gunmen were firing from a building that is part of the living quarters on the base. 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 have said no military hardware has been damaged in the fighting.

Military funerals were held for the soldiers who were killed in the attack. Their killings inside a military base despite intelligence alerts have angered many in India.

"The biggest problem is the multiplicity of command and control. Nobody knows who is really in charge," Rahul Bedi, an analyst for Jane's Information Group, told AP.

"It's a huge embarrassment," he said.

Add to that the fact that Indian authorities had already declared the operation over and successful. Home Minister Rajnath Singh even tweeted Saturday night to congratulate the troops for successfully killing all of the gunmen.

CNN-IBN reported that the six terrorists were "acting on the instructions of the handlers" in Pakistan.

Since Saturday morning, the base has been swarming with air force commandos, army soldiers, National Security Guard troops and local police. Officials, however, have refused to say how many security personnel were involved in the engagement.

The air force base is on the highway that connects India's insurgency-plagued Jammu and Kashmir state with the rest of the country. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The violence follows Prime Minister Narendra Modi's surprise Dec. 25 visit to Pakistan, where he met his counterpart, Nawaz Sharif. The two also held an unscheduled meeting at the Paris climate change talks last month.

Ahead of Modi's visit to Pakistan, the national security advisers of both countries met in Thailand. The foreign secretaries of both nations are to meet in Islamabad later this month. The responses to the attacks from both countries have been muted so far, with neither New Delhi nor Islamabad giving any indication that the planned talks are under any threat.

(With inputs from agencies )

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