Pathankot Attack: 'I See Some Gaps', Admits Defence Minister As Combing Operations Go On

05/01/2016 5:18 PM IST | Updated 29/08/2016 9:41 PM IST
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Four days after a group of heavily-armed gunmen attacked an Indian air force base near the border with Pakistan, killing seven Indian security personnel, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar acknowledged on Tuesday that there were some gaps in security despite an advance alarm sounded by a police officer whose car was hijacked by the infiltrators.

Parrikar confirmed that six terrorists have been killed by the forces in an operation that lasted over 30 hours inside the high-security Pathankot air base that hosts a fleet of India's MiG-21 fighter jets and Mi-25 and Mi-35 attack helicopters, along with other military hardware. Combing operations that are underway at the moment to sanitize the base are expected to be over by tomorrow, Parrikar said. During the day loud explosions were heard from inside the base which TV reports later said were controlled IED explosions.

"I see some gaps, that will be cleared after investigation. but I don't think we have made any compromise on security," he said.

He also congratulated the security forces for containing the suspected Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists to "a corner of the base and not allowing them to go further."

"My worry was how they have (terrorists) managed to come inside," Parrikar said. The security personnel killed in the attack will get 'battle casualty status' and all its benefits. He urged reporters to wait till the National Investigative Agency completes its investigation before drawing a conclusion on the attacks.

He said 30-40 kg of bullets, 3-4 dozens of magazine and mortars have been recovered from the slain terrorists.

"There are indications from the ammunition retrieved that some of it was made in Pakistan," he said.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi today, assuring him that his government would take "prompt and decisive action" against terrorists.

People said an emotional farewell to Lieutenant Colonel E K Niranjan, who was killed while defusing a grenade at the IAF base. He was laid to rest with full military honours at his ancestral home in Elambulassery in Kerala.

A man was arrested in Calicut in Kerala and sedition charges slapped on him after he posted allegedly insulting remarks about Niranjan Kumar on Facebook.

Alarmingly, Punjab police is said to have had an input that 15 terrorists have infiltrated India on new year.

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?"

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. 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. 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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