Pakistan Air Force personnel are pictured near an Ilyushin IL-78MP multirole tanker transport aircraft at PAF Base Minhas following an attack on the base by militants. AFP PHOTO / A. MAJEED
In a brazen pre-dawn assault, heavily armed Taliban terrorists in suicide vests fought their way into one of Pakistan’s largest air bases — believed to house nuclear weapons — on Thursday, embarrassing the country’s powerful military.
The gunbattle raged for hours and nine militants and a soldier were killed in the attack on Minhas air base in Kamra town, 75km from Islamabad.
In India, the Independence Day alert for air force bases on the western borders was extended following the strike.
The attack — claimed by Taliban — was repelled and only one aircraft was damaged, a Pakistan air force spokesman said.
The base in the Attock district of Punjab province, according to a New York Times report, is believed to be one of the locations for Pakistan’s nuclear stockpiles. The strike raises questions about the danger of atomic weapons falling into extremists’ hands.
Nine attackers dressed in military uniforms and armed with rocket propelled-grenades targeted the base and adjacent Pakistan Aeronautical Complex at 2am (1.30am India time).
The complex assembles Mirage and, with Chinese help, JF-17 fighter jets.
The militants moved through a nearby village under cover of darkness and climbed a nine-foot wall strung with barbed wire to break into the base,
the air force spokesman said. Some were wearing military uniforms.
"Eight miscreants were killed inside the Minhas base boundary wall and one miscreant exploded himself outside the perimeters," the air force said.
Ten hours after the assault began spokesman Tariq Mahmood confirmed the base was "totally safe".
Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said the attack was to avenge the killings of their commander Baitullah Mehsud and al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden.