Militants attack Pakistan air base
Islamist militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons fought their way into one of Pakistan's largest air bases today, the air force said.
Only one aircraft was damaged, said an air force spokesman, adding that the Minhas air base at Kamra, in central Punjab province, did not house nuclear weapons. "No air base is a nuclear air base in Pakistan," he said.
A gun battle raged for hours after the attack started in what is a challenge to the nuclear-armed country's powerful military. Commandos were called in to reinforce, and police armoured personnel carriers could be seen heading into the base.
Eight militants and one soldier were killed, the spokesman said. The attackers moved through a nearby village under cover of darkness and climbed a 9ft wall strung with barbed wire to break into the base. Some were wearing military uniforms.
Security forces opened fire when militants strapped with suicide bombing vests approached aircraft hangars, prompting other militants to fire rocket-propelled grenades from outside the base's walls, said the air force spokesman.
Base commander Air Commodore Muhammad Azam, who led the operation against the attackers, was shot in the shoulder, but is in stable condition, said a spokesman.
Search operations for any other militants who may have been hiding in the complex after the attack had ended, he said.
Pakistan's Taliban movement, which is close to al-Qaeda and seen as the biggest security threat to the south Asian nation, claimed responsibility for the assault.
"We are proud of this operation. Our leadership had decided to attack Kamra base a long time ago," Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said.
Minhas, 75km northeast of Islamabad, is adjacent to the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, a major air force research and development centre. Pakistan manufactures JF-17 fighter planes, jointly developed with China, at the site.
Suicide bombers launched attacks near the base and the aeronautical complex in 2007 and 2009, but news reports said defences were not breached.
It was not immediately clear how the attackers managed to enter the sprawling base this time. Although the attack took place at about 2am local time, it is likely many of the soldiers on the base were awake for prayers or breakfast during the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
The assault cast doubts over official assertions that military operations had severely weakened militants waging a violent campaign to topple the US-backed government and impose strict Islamic rule.