B.K. Bangash, Associated Press
KAMRA, Pakistan — A team of eight gunmen attacked a Pakistani air force base with suspected links to the country's nuclear program before dawn Thursday, killing a security official in a heavy battle that ended with the militants dead and parts of the base in flames, officials said.
The attack on the base in Kamra, located only about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Islamabad, was a brazen reminder of the threat posed by Islamist militants in Pakistan despite numerous military offensives against their sanctuaries along the Afghan border.
The large air base hosts a variety of fighter jets, including F-16s, and contains a factory that makes aircraft and other weapons systems. Some experts suspect the base could house part of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, although the army has denied it has any links to the program.
The safety of the country's nuclear weapons has been a major concern for the United States. Western experts say Pakistan has about 100 nuclear weapons and is in the midst of a rapid expansion of its arsenal.
The militants, at least some of whom were wearing explosives strapped to their bodies, attacked the base at around 2 a.m. with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, according to the Pakistani air force.
At least one of the rockets hit a hanger holding a number of aircraft said Pakistani Air Force spokesman, Tariq Mahmood. The rocket pierced the hanger wall, and shrapnel from the explosion damaged one of the aircraft parked inside.
After the rocket barrage, the attackers scaled the wall surrounding the air base, said Mahmood.
Guards inside the base then opened fire on the militants, and an intense firefight ensued, he said. In the initial exchange of gunfire one Pakistani soldier was killed.
Security forces, backed by a team of elite commandos, fought the militants for two hours and were finally able to retake the base, the air force said.
Eight militants and one security personnel were killed in the fighting. The head of the base, Air Commodore Muhammad Azam, was wounded in the shoulder, said Mahmood.
Security forces are searching the area for any militants who may have escaped. They found and destroyed two IEDs, the spokesman said.
The base is formally known as Air Force Base Minhas. It was named after a pilot, Rashid Minhas, lauded as a hero in Pakistan for foiling attempts by his instructor to defect with an air force plane to arch-rival India in 1971. To stop the escape, Minhas disabled the controls of the plane the two were flying, and died in the resulting crash.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but suspicion will likely fall on the Pakistani Taliban, who have waged a bloody insurgency against the government for the past several years that has killed tens of thousands of people.
While the group has carried out hundreds of bombings and other attacks through the country, raids against military bases are somewhat uncommon.
Half a dozen Taliban militants attacked a major naval base in the southern port city of Karachi in May 2011, killing at least 10 people and destroying two U.S.-supplied surveillance aircraft. It took Pakistani commandos 18 hours to retake Naval Station Mehran, and two of the attackers managed to escape. That the attackers managed to infiltrate so deep into the high-security base led to speculation they may have had inside information or assistance.
In 2009, militants dressed in fatigues attacked army headquarters in the city of Rawalpindi, just outside Islamabad, and took 30 people hostage. Pakistani commandos finally raided the compound 22 hours later. Three captives and four militants were among those killed.
There have been at least three attacks in the vicinity of the Minhas base since 2007, but all of them occurred outside the installation.
- Better than a raise: The smallest thing you...
- Many Mormon missionaries who return home...
- Storm along East Coast dumps snow, snarls...
- WestJet airline video goes viral as Santa...
- 50 things you might not know about 15 of your...
- Sexual harassment? Colorado school suspends...
- Looking beyond the premium is a 2-tiered...
- Companies make CEO changes in U.S. and Canada
- Many Mormon missionaries who return... 126
- Judge orders Colo. cake-maker to serve... 122
- Health care debate about presidential... 24
- Space and religion: How believers view... 24
- Can Mandela's legacy revive the GOP? 14
- The American Dream is still alive for... 10
- Better than a raise: The smallest thing... 10
- 'Deseret News Sunday Edition' looks at... 10