ISLAMABAD — Security forces appeared to have thwarted an attack on a Pakistan Air Force base here in the early hours of Aug. 16.
Confirmed details of the attack, which began at 2:30 local time, were in short supply. Local media reported seven terrorists and one member of the security forces killed in the operation.
The air force did not respond to repeated requests from Defense News for details of the operation and its aftermath.
However, it appeared from local media reports that a small number of terrorists attempted to gain access to the Pakistan Air Force Base Minhas and were surrounded and eventually killed by the security forces.
Firing appeared to have ended by 6 a.m., and the base was being checked for any infiltrators who may have remained hidden.
According to Associated Press reports, militants wearing explosive vests and using rocket-propelled grenades attacked the base.
PAF Base Minhas is part of a wider air force facility 35 miles from the capital Islamabad. In addition to an air base, the sprawling complex houses the air force’s various manufacturing and overhaul facilities and is a vital part of the PAF’s industrial capabilities.
The AP reported that the base might be linked to Pakistan’s nuclear program.
The most high profile of the facilities in recent years has been the Aircraft Manufacturing Factory that produces the JF-17 Thunder multi-role combat aircraft. Chinese engineers connected with the manufacture of the Sino-Pakistani fighter would therefore have been present and staying at the base’s residential facilities at the time of the attack.
There were no reports they were harmed.
Analyst Haris Khan of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank said Kamra is a target-rich environment and would have been an obvious target.
“Kamra houses two very important facilities of the PAF; Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and PAF Base Minhas, which houses the 33rd (multi role) Wing; and numbers 14, 15, and 25 squadrons,” he said.
The base has been attacked previously.
An October 2009 suicide attack at a checkpoint at Kamra killed eight people. A suicide car bomber damaged a school bus carrying children of employees at the base in December 2007.
The new attack was somewhat reminiscent of the 2011 attack on Mehran Naval Air Station in Karachi, and the attackers would have wanted to cause a “similar level of mayhem,” Khan said.
No confirmed details of any potential damage to aircraft or facilities were available.
Former air force officer and analyst Kaiser Tufail said suspicion for the attack is likely to fall on the Pakistani Taliban and its affiliates, and be viewed as a response to recent PAF success against the militants.
“It seems that the attack was planned in a hurry and apparently is a reaction to PAF strikes carried out in the past few days,” he said, referring to the killing of 13 terrorists in Upper Orakzai in the Tribal Areas during a strike on militant training facilities there on Aug. 11.
A couple of days later, the army claimed to have killed 30 militants in the same region who had apparently attacked an army patrol seeking revenge for the earlier air strikes.
Tufail said more attacks can be expected.
“As in the past, the insurgents will continue to target all those state organizations like the armed forces, para-military forces and police, which have a role to play in fighting the insurgency.”
Khan said intelligence reports over the past few days warned of an attack on air force facilities.
“The very specific warning stated that terrorists were planning to attack PAF Air Bases,” he said. “The intel even said that the attackers might be wearing official uniforms and driving a blue car. Apparently the intel was correct but I’m not sure if all precautionary measures were taken to thwart this attack. “
Though praising the prompt and effective response of the security forces to the attack on Minhas, Tufail did raise concerns over some details.
“It is fortuitous that in this latest attack on Minhas Base at Kamra, no high-value assets were lost. The PAF must be credited with a fairly prompt response, though the entry of the insurgents into the base will raise some questions about the state of security,” he said.
Though he added, “Having said that, it has to be understood that air bases which are spread over thousands of acres and whose perimeter runs into miles on end can be a challenge to defend by manpower whose primary expertise lies in aircraft maintenance rather than ground defense.”
All air force facilities were placed on high alert in the wake of the attack, and an investigation is underway into all aspects surrounding the incident.