Pakistani security personnel arrive to take positions after an attack by militants in Quetta on two military airbases in southwestern Pakistan. (BANARAS KHAN/ / AFP)
ISLAMABAD — An attack in the very early hours of Friday morning on two Pakistani air bases was thwarted largely due to improved security measures that show the military has learned lessons from previous attacks, say analysts.
Militants belonging to the Pakistan Taliban’s (TTP) Ghalib Mehsud faction’s suicide wing, the Fidayeen Islam, launched simultaneous attacks on the airbases of Khalid and Samungli near the provincial capital of Quetta in Balochistan.
Samungli is a Pakistan Air Force (PAF) base that shares a runway with Quetta International Airport, and Khalid is an Army aviation airbase that is 12 kilometers away.
Though the attackers, who are thought to have been of Uzbek origin, and some of the more feared operatives in or associated with the TTP, tried to storm the airbases using automatic weapons, grenades and rocket propelled grenades, they were beaten back.
Twelve were killed after gun battles with the defending police and security forces. Five suspected attackers have been apprehended.
Eleven of the defenders, who were from the Army, Air Force, Frontier Corps and Police, were injured.
Analyst, author and former Air Force pilot, Air Commodore Kaiser Tufail, says defenders learned their lesson from previous attacks.
“The security measures are based on several past experiences. The response was so swift that the intruders were stunned and shot in no time,” he said.
There had been “no damage to any asset whatsoever,” he said.
Analyst Haris Khan of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank says a dedicated base protection force is being raised.
The Air Force is “in the process of raising a contingent of 7,500 personnel for the elite Special Services Wing [SSW] to protect the air bases, but it will take time to build this force,” he said.
“The SSW was established after the creation of Air Force’s Strategic Command, which is the custodian of nuclear weapons for the PAF. The SSW is responsible for protecting these assets.”
Khan says the new dedicated base protection force was born out of experience from previous attacks.
“After the attack on PNS Mehran and PAF Faisal [in 2011] in Karachi, and PAF Kamra [in 2012] the high command of PAF decided that bases can’t be protected and defended by serving officers and airmen.
“Therefore, the SSW has been expanded from 1,500 troops to 7,500.”
Though the new force will be used to protect static airbases, Khan says it will still be part of the elite SSW and the rest of Pakistan’s special forces community.
“SSW personal go through similar training and doctrine of force implementation as the Pakistan Army’s Special Services Group. SSW personnel receive training at Special Operation School, Cherat for six to eight weeks,” he said.
Khan highlights that on this occasion the defenders did well even in the absence of the dedicated base protection force, as “none of the terrorists entered the bases” and that they were “eliminated outside the base perimeters, including one terrorist who was cutting through the barbed wire.”
However, he says some of the perimeter measures may need to be improved and a more robust barrier erected as the current walls and barbed wire are decades old. ■