In the attack on the Pathankot Air Force station, one of India’s key airbases on the Western border, the air assets stationed there was miraculously saved as security forces quickly sealed off the area.
The MiG-21 BiS fighter jets and the Mi-25 and Mi-35 attack helicopters were in the technical area which was swiftly sealed off. The attack is another in a string of growing attacks on security installations.
“The infiltrators were immediately engaged and contained within a limited area, preventing them from entering the technical zone where high-value assets are parked,” the Indian Air Force said in a statement.
Analysts say lives were lost because the terrorists were at large in a civilian area, increasing the risk of collateral damage requiring caution by the forces. “They are in the domestic area, you can’t just shoot them away. There are civilians and families,” an officer said.
What we know so far
- » A group of four to five terrorists attacked Air Force base in Pathankot in Punjab on Saturday.
- » Four of the assailants and three jawans were killed in the gunbattle.
- » Defence sources said the terrorists could not enter the technical area of the IAF station, which is the base for MiG-21 fighter planes.
- » Former IAF official, arrested for spying, to be quizzed by Delhi Police in custody in connection with attack in Pathankot.
However, it is still surprising that even with specialist forces such as the National Security Guards (NSG) and the Garuds (Air Force Special Forces), along with others, it took close to 13 hours to neutralise all the terrorists.
“When someone approaches the base, you cannot shoot on suspicion. Someone might have a hidden weapon and fire randomly,” said a senior retired Air Force officer.
The IAF said intelligence inputs had been available of a likely attempt by terrorists to “infiltrate into the military installation in the Pathankot area”. “Due to the effective preparation and coordinated efforts by all the security agencies, a group of terrorists was detected by the aerial surveillance platforms as soon as it entered the Air Force Station at Pathankot,” a statement said.