Defence minister Manohar Parrikar said on Tuesday some “gaps” in security may have led to the deadly terrorist attack at the Pathankot air force station and though six gunmen have been killed, a days-long operation to secure the base is still underway.
While visiting the sprawling compound in Punjab, the minister announced that the NIA had got major leads in the case about how the attackers entered the base while he congratulated the defence forces for restricting the “highly motivated” terrorists to a small area.
“I can see certain gaps, which will be known only after investigation,” he said. “But I don’t think that we have made any compromise with security.”
Security sources say the attack may have been carried out by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed, though the United Jihad Council, a conglomerate of several terror groups claimed Kashmiri militants were responsible.
Parrikar said the attackers were carrying AK-47 assault rifles with makeshift rocket launchers attached, mortar rounds that could be fired from the launchers, pistols, and 50-60 kilograms of ammunition.
The terror strike came days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a surprise visit to his counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, in Islamabad and it has cast a shadow over planned talks between the foreign secretaries of the two countries on January 15.
A combing operation is still on at the airbase for safety purposes, Parrikar said, and this is expected to end by Wednesday. The National Security Guard (NSG) would take the final call on calling off the operation.
“There are live bombs and the high-quality explosives that need to be detonated. One of the terrorists still has body vest with grenades stuck,” the minister said.
“So, I have told them to take no risk because we have already lost one person to a booby trap. The operation was very difficult and it has been done without compromising with any strategic asset or other building. Only one building where two terrorists were holed up has been damaged.”
The minister maintained that the air force base was a “complicated area” spread over nearly 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) and housing 3,000 families. He was accompanied by army chief General Dalbir Singh, IAF’s Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha and NIA chief Sharad Kumar.
(With inputs from PTI)