Pathankot attack: Operation nears completion; 7 securitymen killed

Pathankot/New Delhi: Security forces on Sunday nailed two more terrorists who had attacked the Indian Air Force base at Pathankot along with four others.

Seven security personnel, including one officer of the National Security Guard, were killed in the counter-offensive against the terrorists, as a final combing operation was in progress till evening.

Indian security personnel stand alert on the perimeter of the airforce base in Pathankot on January 3, 2016. A fresh gunbattle erupted January 3, at the Indian air force base attacked by suspected Islamic militants a day earlier with the loss of 11 lives, police said. Pic/AFP

The terrorists, suspected to be from Pakistan and who attacked the IAF base, failed to destroy IAF assets due to timely action by security forces, union Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi said in New Delhi on Sunday.

"The operation is still continuing. The engagement is still on. Operation will continue till the whole air base has been cleared of any intruders, any terrorist," Air Commodore J.S. Dhamoon, the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) of the Pathankot Air Force Station (AFS), told the media.

"Today (Sunday) morning, two (terrorists) were engaged. This operation is at the completion stage," Dhamoon said.

Four terrorists were killed on Saturday in a 15-hour gunfight in which the NSG, Indian Army and IAF commandos were involved, assisted by IAF attack helicopters.

Smoke could be seen coming out of the IAF air base in Pathankot, 250 km from Chandigarh, on Sunday evening as the gunfight moved to an end.

The home secretary said four terrorists were neutralised on Saturday after hours of fighting. At that time, "it was not certain if there were other terrorists or not."

But on Sunday morning, it was discovered there were two more terrorists, he said.

According to him, the terrorists killed six IAF personnel and injured eight others. An NSG officer was killed on Sunday morning and 12 of his colleagues were injured.

"Because of early action, the terrorists were unable to move to their likely intended aim but were contained in an area of heavy growth of trees and shrubs and surrounded," Mehrishi said.

He also said the security forces had sounded an alert in the area, including the IAF base, ahead of Saturday's pre-dawn attack.

All vital installations and government offices were informed about a likely terror attack and efforts were mounted to track down the terrorists who had earlier killed a taxi driver, he said.

"Due to the active intelligence inputs and quick action taken by security forces, especially the IAF, we were able to ensure there was no damage to the assets of the air force. Therefore, the main apparent aim of the terrorists stands defeated."

Giving details of the attack, Air Commodore Dhamoon said: "During the search operation late in the night, one group was engaged by the Garuds (IAF commandos). One Garud was martyred and one was injured.

"The terrorists, estimated to be four in number, managed to run away from there and headed to other buildings. They kept firing while running."

He said the terrorists, while running, fired at the DSC (Defence Service Corps) mess where early morning breakfast was being prepared.

"One DSC jawan ran after them, jostled with one of the terrorists who were running. With the terrorist's rifle itself, he killed the terrorist. Thereafter, he was killed by one of the bullets of the terrorists," Dhamoon said.

"The terrorists were cordoned off in one area and the operation continued throughout the night (Saturday) and in the morning (Sunday)," he said.

Dhamoon said seven security personnel -- one Garud commando, five from the DSC and one officer of the NSG -- were killed.

There was confusion on Saturday evening about the number of terrorists killed and whether the operation against them had ended.

On Saturday, Home Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted that the operation had ended and that five terrorists were killed. However, the tweet was later withdrawn as it became clear that only four terrorists were killed and more could still be holed up inside the frontier IAF base.

The technical area, where the IAF's MIG-21 fighter jets, MI-35 attack helicopters and other critical assets are stationed, remained secure.

A thorough search and combing operation by the army, NSG, IAF commandos, paramilitary forces and Punjab Police continued on Sunday at the IAF base and nearby areas.

IAF helicopters flew over the base and nearby areas through the night and since early Sunday to assist the ground forces.

"Security agencies are engaged in a gunfight with two terrorists," Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal said on Sunday.

Gunshots and blasts were heard inside the IAF base again on Sunday morning and afternoon.

Badal demanded strengthening of the Border Security Force (BSF) in Punjab in view of two major incidents of infiltration by Pakistani terrorists.

"The BSF strength is not adequate. Because this (Punjab) is a peaceful state, the strength is less. We need more strength (of the BSF), especially because this area is close to the border with Jammu and Kashmir," Badal said.

Meanwhile, the body of slain NSG officer Lt. Col. Niranjan Kumar will be taken to his hometown near Pallakad in Kerala on Monday for the last rites, a relative said on Sunday.

The NSG officer, whose parents hail from Kerela, was settled in Bengaluru. He is survived by his wife and a two-year-old child.

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