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Ten Killed In Battle At Pakistani Air Base

  • RFE/RL

KAMRA, Pakistan --Nine Islamic militants and one Pakistani soldier have been killed in a gun battle at an air force base in Pakistan.

The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack on the air base, RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal reports.

A purported Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan spokesman, Ahsanullah Ahsan, confirmed reports that all nine militants who staged the attack on the Minhas air base in the central town of Kamra were killed.

Ahsan said the militants will continue such attacks on Pakistani forces and security installations.

One soldier also died during the clashes, which lasted for more than two hours before government forces -- backed by a team of elite commandos -- reestablished complete control over the base.

The air force said in a statement that the attackers were wearing suicide vests and were armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

Some experts suspect that the Minhas air base, located 70 kilometers northwest of the capital, Islamabad, could house part of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

However, a government official denied there were nuclear weapons stationed at the heavily guarded base.

The air base also hosts a variety of fighter jets, including F-16s, and contains a facility that makes aircraft and other weapons system.

The Pakistani Taliban has waged a bloody insurgency against the government for the past several years and staged a number of high-profile attacks, including one on army headquarters in Rawalpindi in 2009. Tens of thousands of people have been killed.

President Asif Ali Zardari strongly condemned the attack, and said Islamabad's resolve to fight terrorism would not be deterred by such acts. He said the government was determined to eliminate terrorism and stood firm on this stance.

The president also offered his condolences to the family of Sepoy Muhammad Asif, the officer killed in the operation.

Inside Job?

RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal correspondents in the area said three government troops -- including base commander Muhammad Azam, who led the operation against the attackers -- were wounded during the clashes.

Officials told RFE/RL that Azam's injuries were not life-threatening.

Pakistan's "Dawn" newspaper quoted a witness as saying some of the attackers wore military uniforms but were challenged as they approached a checkpoint at the entrance of the base.

Retired Brigadier Muhammad Saad, a defense analyst in Peshawar, blamed what he called the "negligence" of security officials for the incident at the base.

Saad said that "otherwise this would not be possible. See [the example of] U.S. forces [in Afghanistan]. It never happened that someone sneaked into their bases in Bagram, Shindand, or Kandahar."

The air base in Kamra has been targeted twice before. A suicide bomber killed six civilians and two Pakistani Air Force personnel at a checkpoint there on October 23, 2009.

On December 10, 2010, at least five children of base employees were wounded when a suicide car bomber struck a school bus.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa, and RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal

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