ISLAMABAD — Authorities in Pakistan say they have killed all of the heavily-armed militants who assaulted a major air base early Thursday. Officials have also denied claims that the facility houses some of the country’s nuclear weapons.
According to authorities, a group of up to nine militants armed with weapons and rocket-propelled grenades was involved in the brazen assault on one of Pakistan’s key air force installations in the garrison town of Kamara, 75 kilometers northwest of the Pakistani capital.
Defense Minister Naveed Qamar told reporters the militants had explosives strapped to their bodies but were intercepted and killed by security forces in a firefight that lasted for several hours.
The defense minister claimed "the assault was aimed at destroying the entire facility to weaken Pakistan’s defense capabilities but security forces thwarted the attempt with minimum losses". He says the fighting left one soldier dead and slightly wounded the base commander, who was leading the security operation.
Authorities have confirmed that one of the more than 30 aircraft present on the facility at the time of attack was also damaged.
Pakistani officials denied reports the facility possessed nuclear weapons, saying concerns about the safety of the nuclear arsenal are misplaced. Moazam Ahmed Khan is the foreign ministry spokesman.
“Nobody should really worry about the security and safety of our [nuclear] assets. They are in safe hands. All measures have been taken and they are totally safe and sound,” he said.
The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the early morning assault on the air force base.
Last year, several militants assaulted a naval base in the port city of Karachi, killing 10 soldiers and destroying two maritime surveillance aircraft. And a 2009 attack on the powerful military’s headquarters had killed 14 troops including senior officers.
Thursday’s attack follows reports that Pakistani military officials may be planning an offensive against Taliban militants in the North Waziristan tribal agency.
Campaign of violence
In recent months Pakistani authorities have claimed that successive military offensives have significantly crippled the extremist groups waging a violent campaign against the Pakistani government.
Chairman of the Senate’s Defense Committee Mushahid Hussain, whose party is a partner in the governing coalition in Pakistan, said that repeated high-profile terrorist attacks on security institutions undermine that claim, pointing to a failure of intelligence coordination.
“It seems that terrorist organizations and terrorist groups, which are apparently well organized and highly motivated, are able to attack with impunity at a time and target of their own choosing,” said Hussain.
The fleet at the Minhas Airbase, which came under attack on Thursday, also includes JF-17 Thunder aircraft, jointly produced with China. Sources say that Chinese maintenance experts are usually present at the facility.
Also Thursday, a group of suspected Sunni Muslim militants attacked three passenger buses in the northern mountainous Mansehra region, killing at least 22 people. Authorities say that the victims were minority Shi'ite Muslims.