The ‘lost opportunity’ in Pathankot

Two who were hiding in airmen’s billet could have been caught alive.

February 07, 2016 11:38 pm | Updated December 04, 2021 11:34 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

An armoured vehicle deployed near the Indian Air Force base at Pathankot after the terror attack.

An armoured vehicle deployed near the Indian Air Force base at Pathankot after the terror attack.

Even as the debate on the number of > terrorists who attacked the Pathankot airbase last month continues, the chief of the National Security Guard (NSG), which fought the intruders, told The Hindu that he was certain there were six terrorists inside. He said two terrorists hiding in the airmen’s billet, which was blown up, could have been caught alive had Lieutenant-Colonel Niranjan not died while handling the bodies of the four terrorists killed earlier.

In an interview, NSG Director-General R.C. Tayal said the ‘go-through’ sensors (a listening device) put on the wall of the airmen’s billet confirmed that at least two more terrorists were inside. Four had been neutralised by then. This was the third day of the operation. “You know why I say this? An NSG commando had placed the sensor on one of the walls on the ground floor of the billet. He heard a man saying in Punjabi accent: Abe uth, NSG waale aa gaye hain, hum khatam [wake up, NSG is here. We are finished]. We were certain after this that there were two inside,” Mr. Tayal said.

He said the two men were probably “loaders” who had accompanied the four terrorists killed earlier, as they had a large number of explosives and improvised explosive devices, and mostly threw grenades in defence. No AK-47, a weapon used by trained terrorists [also by the four men who were killed], was used by them.

We wanted to smoke out two ultras: NSG chief

The Director-General of the National Security Guard (NSG), R.C. Tayal, has said that two terrorists who were hiding in the airmen’s billet in the Pathankot airbase could most probably be “loaders” who had accompanied the four terrorists killed earlier in the operation.

Asked how “loaders” could recognise NSG commandos, Mr. Tayal said: “These men are given some basic training about the counter-terrorism forces and our black dungaree uniform is unique…”

“As soon as we placed the sensor [on one of the walls on the ground floor of the billet], a grenade was lobbed from inside. We presumed that one of the two terrorists was injured during the first few minutes as firing came from only one kind of weapon, which was a pistol. They did not use any other weapon like AK-47, but lobbed a lot of grenades. The man firing at us moved from one corner to another,” Mr. Tayal said.

As reported by The Hindu earlier, the presence of two terrorists in the billet was noticed on the third day of the operation as the door of the airmen’s billet was bolted from inside, and nobody answered it when the buildings were being sanitised. “We did not want to blow up the building; we wanted to catch them alive. They had been cornered in a room and we were all set to make room-intervention. But the news of [the death] Lt. Col. Niranjan arrived, and we decided to blow up the building, we did not want more casualties,” he said.

How the Pathankot terror attack unfolded

January 1

  • 7pm: NSG headquarters receives orders to proceed to Pathankot airbase
  • 10.15 pm: NSG teams reach the airbase
  • 11.30 pm: ADG Punjab Police briefs NSG, informs them that at least four terrorists were inside.
  • 11.55 pm: Three teams of NSG is readied, two deployed inside, among them one near the defence assets. Third team, outside along with Punjab Police.

January 2

  • 1 am: It is also decided to deploy Garud commandos near the periphery walls and key locations. The lights of all the buildings inside the airbase are switched off.
  • 2.45 am: Four terrorists have their first engagement with Garud commando who is shot dead.
  • 2.47 am: Terrorists rush towards DSC mess, the only building where lights were on as personnel were preparing breakfast.
  • 3 am: Five DSC personnel are killed. NSG rushes towards the mess. Terrorists run towards the elephant grass (nobody has seen them running in that direction)
  • 3.15 am When NSG was trying to retrieve the bodies, they come under fire from terrorists who had hidden in the elephant grass outside the mess, barely 150-200 metres away.
  • 4 am: Decision is to taken to cordon off the area and wait for day-break.
  • 9 am: No firing is reported from the terrorists side.
  • 9.30 am: First firing from the elephant grass is reported.
  • 10 am: The terrorists were confined to a small area.
  • 3.30 pm: NSG decides to request Army for Casper (mine resistant vehicles).
  • 4.30-5 pm: The Caspers arrive, all the four terrorists are killed.
  • 5.30 pm: It is dark, NSG decides not to comb the area where terrorists have died, and wait for the next day. Bodies lie there.

January 2

  • 8 am: Teams are divided in three- Army asked to comb open areas, NSG is asked to sanitise the buildings, Punjab police deployed at outer cordon, Air Force asked to do aerial surveillance.
  • 9 am: Combing operation begins.
  • 9.30 am: Lt Col Niranjan who heads the bomb disposal team is retrieving the bodies of the dead terrorists.
  • 11.30 am: He has successfully dragged out three bodies, while handling the fourth, a grenade he took out from the terrorist’s pouch, bursts in his right hand, punctures his lungs and he dies instantly. Three others receive injuries.
  • 9 am: Around 9 am at Airmen’s Billet- Another NSG team finds the ground-floor of Airmen’s Billet bolted from inside.
  • 9.15 am: At least 15-20 security personnel on the first floor are safely evacuated.
  • 9.20 am: Go-through sensors are put outside one of the walls, where an NSG commando hears a man talking in Punjabi accent: Abe Uth, NSG wale aa gaye hain
  • 9.22 am: A grenade is lobbed at NSG commandos from one of the windows.
  • 9.25 am: NSG requests Punjab Police for tear gas shells.
  • 10 am: Idea is to smoke them out.
  • 12 noon: Around 12 noon- News of Lt Col arrives, NSG decides to blow up the building instead.
  • 12-4.30 pm: Sporadic fire comes from the building but mostly grenades are lobbed.NSG says firing came from two locations inside the Billet.
  • 4.30 pm: BMP (armoured personnel carrier) vehicles are used to blow up the building.Due to the firing done by NSG, the temperature inside the Billet rose and the explosives the terrorists were carrying started to blow up. At least 35-40 explosions take place.
  • 5 pm: Operation still not called off.

January 4 and 5

  • »Combing operation continues , NSG says there is a probability there could be more.

January 6

  • » Operation ends

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