Indian forces battle more militants at airbase, 11 dead

Indian security forces were engaged Sunday in weeding out more militants from an Air Force station more than a day after it was attacked by the heavily armed gunmen officials said had infiltrated from Pakistan.

At least seven Indian security forces personnel had died since the militants attacked the airbase in the early hours of Saturday, federal Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi said at a press briefing.

Four of the militants were eliminated Saturday itself, after which the area had been cordoned off for the night, Mehrishi said.

During combing operations on Sunday, the gunmen started firing again and the operation was now in its closing stage, Mehrishi said at the evening briefing.

The home secretary said the operation would end only after every inch of the sprawling airbase was checked and sanitized.

It was not clear how many militants were still in the complex, but local media reported that there were two.

The group of five to seven militants, whom Indian intelligence agencies claim infiltrated from Pakistan, attacked the airbase at Pathankot, about 50 kilometres from the border with Pakistan, early Saturday.

The Indian government said it had intelligence of an imminent attack and had bolstered security at the airbase.

The militants were subsequently prevented from moving into the station's technical area, where the aircraft and weaponry were located.

"The intelligence inputs helped us to act fast," Mehrishi said. 

"The operation is still going on. We hope it will end soon.

"Due to active intelligence inputs and advance information we were able to ensure no damage was done to the assets at the air force station ... the apparent main aim of the terrorists stands defeated."

While local media reported that two more militants had been killed Sunday, the home secretary said, "We cannot confirm this till we have seen the bodies."

"Pakistan has to stop helping militants who attack India," Sukhbir Singh Badal, chief minister of Punjab state where Pathankot is located, said at a press briefing in state capital Chandigarh.

The Army, including National Security Guard (NSG) commandos, the Air Force and Punjab Police were all engaged in the operation.

A bomb thought to have been planted by the gunmen exploded Sunday during combing operations, killing an NSG officer of the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Five security personnel who were part of the corps which guards defence installations and a commando with the air force were also among those who died during the operation.

A total of seven security forces personnel had died and 20 were injured, one of them critically, Mehrishi said.

Assault rifles, mortars, grenade launchers and Global Positioning System (GPS) devices believed to be carried by the gunmen were recovered at the scene, NDTV reported.

The attack came days after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise visit to Pakistan to meet his counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, to give a push to peace talks.

The nuclear-capable South Asian neighbours have fought three wars, two of them over the disputed Kashmir region. 

India also blames Pakistan for aiding and abetting Kashmiri separatist militants. Islamabad denies the charge. It says they are freedom fighters.

Pakistan condemned Saturday's terrorist attack.

The next round of talks between the foreign secretaries of the two countries is scheduled to be held in Islamabad mid-January.

Last update: Sun, 03/01/2016 - 14:44

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