Rebels storm Pakistan military base
Published Thursday, August 16, 2012
Heavily armed rebels stormed a Pakistani air force base on Thursday, sparking clashes that left 10 people dead and raised concerns about the safety of the country's nuclear arsenal.
One security official was killed and a plane damaged in the pre-dawn assault at PAF Base Minhas, where suspected Islamists again showed their ability to penetrate a sensitive military site five years into a Taliban insurgency.
There has been a lull in recent attacks, but speculation is now heavy that Pakistan could bow to US demands for an operation against militants in their premier fortress of North Waziristan, in the tribal belt on the Afghan border.
An official denied there were nuclear weapons on the heavily guarded base, but the audacious assault would likely raise further questions in the West about the dangers of Pakistan's atomic weapons falling into extremists' hands.
The Pakistan Air Force said nine attackers dressed in military uniforms and armed with rocket propelled-grenades and suicide vests targeted the base and adjacent Pakistan Aeronautical Complex at 2:00 am (2100 GMT Wednesday).
The complex assembles Mirage and, with Chinese help, JF-17 fighter jets.
PAF Minhas, in the town of Kamra in Punjab province 60 kilometers northwest of Islamabad, has been attacked twice before.
"Eight miscreants were killed inside the Minhas base boundary wall and one miscreant exploded himself outside the perimeters where he was hiding," the air force announced in an updated statement.
It said there had been a shootout "for more than two hours" and 10 hours after the assault began, spokesman Tariq Mahmood confirmed the base was "totally safe."
Witnesses said the attackers came round the back, exploiting the holiest night of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan to remain undetected as long as possible.
"Most of the male residents (from the village at the back) were in mosques for special prayers," local resident Athar Abbas told Express Television.
"I heard three or four explosions, there was heavy gunfire also," he said. "It appears that the militants arrived using a village track and climbed over the wall."
One officer told AFP that he saw flames after waking up for his late night meal, eaten during the dawn-to-dusk Muslim fasting month.