Security operations to secure the Pathankot Indian Air Force facility from two remaining terrorists are in the final stages and will conclude only after all assets are physically combed, the National Security Guard said on Monday.
As the operation against the terrorists entered the third day, NSG, IAF and Army officers said there was no collateral damage to the strategic Air Force assets.
“Till now, we have eliminated four terrorists and operation to eliminate two more terrorists, possibly is in the final stage of conduct,” Inspector General NSG Maj General Dushant Singh said.
Singh, who was flanked by Air officer commanding, Air commodore J S Damoon and Brigadier Anupinder Singh, said “the entire operation will continue till all the personnel, assets, structure are physically combed. So it is likely to take a long time.”
“These terrorists are holed up in a double storeyed building which is a living accommodation of the Air Force personnel and currently the operations are in progress to clear this building from the terrorists,” Brigadier Singh said.
The area of the Air Force base is “very large” where strategic assets of IAF are kept, besides families of IAF personnel and schools are located in it. “It is a mini city,” the IAF officer said. He said that the terrorists have come “well prepared” and are “heavily armed” with an aim to target the strategic assets of the Air Force.
The officers said the Army was on general alert since January one following intelligence inputs of a terror strike.
Meanwhile, National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the terrorist attacks at Pathankot’s air base and the Indian consulate in Afghanistan’s Mazar-i-Sharif during the high-level security meeting held at the latter’s official 7, Race Course Road (RCR) residence in New Delhi on Monday.
The operations resumed on Monday after the pre-dawn attack on Saturday saw security forces clash with alleged operators of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) till Sunday evening. The Pakistan-based group has been blamed for the December 2001 attack on Parliament that killed 11 people.
Movement of heavily armed troops and the NSG personnel picked up at Punjab’s Pathankot airbase on Monday morning, indicating preparations for a final assault against the remaining terrorists holed up at the facility.
Soldiers armed with weapons such as rocket launchers and mortar guns besides other sophisticated weapons were seen entering the airbase in five army trucks around 9.30am, followed by NSG personnel in three vehicles.
Punjab’s additional director general of police (law and order) Hardeep Singh Dhillon has also reportedly moved in to the base as a part of the operations.
Air Force choppers with night vision were kept airborne through Sunday night to survey the area as security forces conducted combing operations to flush out two alleged Pakistani militants who were part of the offensive. Gunshots were heard sporadically after the midnight and also in the early hours of Monday, while three explosions added to the tense atmosphere in the morning.
Casualties on the Indian side rose to seven and around 15 injured, with a blast during a mop-up operation killing an officer of the elite NSG and three more security men succumbing to their injuries from the encounter that began over 48 hours ago. Lieutenant t Colonel Niranjan, a member of the NSG’s bomb disposal squad, died after he succumbed to injuries sustained while trying to retrieve a live grenade from the body of a dead terrorist as part of the combing operations.
“The area can’t be declared fully sanitised,” Air Marshal Anil Khosla told reporters in New Delhi on Sunday.
The remains of Lt Col Niranjan Kumar reached his mourning family in Bengaluru early on Monday morning while those of Garud Commando Gursewak Singh arrived in Garnala, Ambala.
Home minister Rajnath Singh tweeted his condolences to the officer, as well to the other slain officers.
Officials confirmed no damage to military assets but admitted the government remained unsure about the exact number of terrorists who ambushed the heavily-fortified base in a pre-dawn Saturday raid as it became clear the number was higher than previously estimated.
A senior Punjab Police official said the number of terrorists could be as high as eight or 10, not five as originally thought, as authorities launched a massive operation to locate a vehicle that a possible second group of militants allegedly used to drive down from the border to the base, barely 25 kilometres away.