Armed with heavy artillery and IEDs, terrorists breached Pakistan Air Force’s fortified Minhas Base in Kamra – a two hour drive from Islamabad -- in the wee hours of Thursday. The attack was repulsed by early morning by which time all nine terrorists were killed in the intensive gun battle that ensued on the sprawling base that is said to house a part of Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack to avenge the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The TTP spokesman told dawn.com that two groups of terrorists had entered the base from separate points and launched a combined attack. He claimed that more than a dozen security personnel were killed in the attack and three JF-17 thunder aircraft were destroyed.
The PAF, however, maintained that only one soldier was killed and an officer injured in the attack. And, one aircraft was damaged. According to PAF, the terrorists were armed with automatic weapons, grenade launchers and IEDs besides had bombs strapped to their bodies. One of them blew himself up. Even after the gun fight was over, explosions could be heard from the airbase as security personnel detonated the recovered IEDs in a controlled environment.
The base –in the North Punjab district of Attock – is home to the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex where Mirage and the JF-17 thunder jets are assembled. It has been attacked thrice in the past and a week ago The Express Tribune had reported that the TTP was planning an attack on the PAF base in Lahore and other such facilities before Eid to avenge the killing of their leader Ghaffar Qaiserani alias Saifullah in Dera Ghazi Khan.
Following the pre-dawn attack, some arrests have been made from residential areas adjacent to the base. With it being unclear how the terrorists entered the base, people were being questioned for information of movements around the complex since it was `Lailat ul Qadr’ – the night of the 27th Ramzan when people stay away praying till `sehri’ (the morning meal before start of the day’s fasting).
Just like the attack on the naval airbase in Karachi last year, the ability of terrorists to enter the PAF base undetected with enough time to announce their presence has once again thrown up uncomfortable questions for the all powerful security establishment of the country; particularly given the fact that a sizable portion of the cash-strapped nation’s budget goes into defence.