Militants storm Pathankot air base

Militants storm Pathankot air base

Terror revisited Punjab in the early hours of Saturday after heavily-armed militants in army fatigues stormed into the Air Force base in Pathankot, barely 45 km from the Pakistan border.

Four militants and three security personnel were killed in the gunbattle that lasted nearly 13 hours.

The militants were cordoned off from the technical area, which foiled their attempt to damage aircraft and other Air Force assets.

A pre-dawn aerial surveillance spotted their movement as the militants were trying to enter the heavily-guarded premises. 

The attack is believed to be orchestrated by Jaish-e-Mohammad, the Pakistan-based outfit headed by Maulana Masood Azhar, one of the three terrorists that India freed to facilitate release of 176 passengers aboard an hijacked Indian Airline flight in 1999.

The slain militants were all in their 20s and they crossed over a water body to reach the periphery of the air base before opening indiscriminate fire.  This is the second terror strike that Punjab has witnessed from across the border in the last five months since the Dinanagar terror strike in July. Like in the previous attack, the militants crossed over from Pakistan, this time around New Year Eve.

Militants first struck around 3 am, killing two guards deployed in the perimeter security. Air Force Garuda commandos and the National Security Guards launched a major offensive, killing three militants in the first few hours.

One commando was also killed. The operation ended after the fourth militant was killed several hours later.

Visual inputs from aerial surveillance that continued throughout the operation proved crucial.

The combing and search operation continues to rule out possibility of more terrorists.  
The Defence Ministry said intelligence inputs had been available of a likely attempt by terrorists to infiltrate into the military installation in Pathankot area.

“Effective preparation and coordinated efforts by security agencies a group of terrorists were detected by the aerial surveillance platforms as soon as they entered the Air Force Station”, the ministry said.

“The infiltrators were immediately engaged and contained within a limited area, thus preventing them from entering the technical zone where high value assets are parked,” the ministry added. Pathankot is a key air base for MiG-21 Bison fighters and Mi-35 attack helicopters. There is also a huge military presence in the cantonment area. Though an alert was sounded, the militants could not be apprehended.

They are believed to have crossed over from Pakistan around New Year Eve and had an unhindered stay in the area until this morning. Gurdaspur SP Salwinder Singh’s abduction on Thursday night had sent alarm bells ringing after he disclosed that the five abductors in army fatigues were armed with AK-47s.

The same day, the militants killed another person before fleeing in the SP’s vehicle.  

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