Taliban fighters mounted a daring raid on one of Pakistan’s most heavily protected nuclear airbases, killing one soldier and wounding his commander in a five-hour battle.
The early morning assault raises fresh questions over the security of the country’s nuclear arsenal, considered one of Barack Obama’s biggest foreign policy headaches.
Six militants wearing air force uniforms and suicide vests were killed in a fierce firefight with security forces after penetrating the high-securityPakistan Aeronautical Complex at Kamra, 45 miles north-west of the capital Islamabad.
Security analysts said the gunmen were able to break in to the compound despite a red alert at all military installations following a warning by Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency of an attack by militants from the North Waziristan tribal area near the Afghan border. The agency had warned the government of a potential terrorist strike on the 27th day of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.
The attack is the third on the airbase since 2007, but is the most audacious and successful to date.
The militants launched their raid from a wilderness area on the edge of base at 2am, with fighters outside firing rocket propelled grenades at the nearest check post while others scaled the boundary wall. They killed at least one soldier and got within striking distance of aircraft hangers, before damaging a Ukrainian-built transport aircraft with an rocket propelled grenade.
Fighting continued until around 7am as air force commandos fought to retake the base.
They were only stopped from reaching F-16 fighter jets by air force troops led by Air Commodore Muhammed Azam who was among four men wounded in the battle.
According to Air Force officials the militants were aiming to destroy the planes, which are used to bomb Taliban bases in Pakistan’s restive tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan. They included a squadron of F-16 fighter-bombers and the AWACS reconnaissance aircraft used to coordinate their operations.
The facility is widely believed however to store some of the country’s estimated 100 nuclear warheads.
Pakistan’s military leaders and government officials have sought to allay American concerns that its nuclear facilities are under threat from Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists seeking to acquire atomic weapons.
A Pakistani defence ministry insider told The Daily Telegraph that nuclear warheads are kept “decoupled” from their delivery systems under the country’s strategic weapons security policy, and are not stored at Kamra or any other air force base.
But that has not stopped the US from drawing up contingency plans to seize Pakistan’s nuclear warheads in the event that Taliban militants overrun the country.
Three years ago President Obama dispatched nuclear specialists to the region amid unconfirmed reports that militant commanders had obtained sufficient material for a “dirty bomb”.
Pakistan’s nuclear bases are protected by heavily armed security personnel vetted by the country’s ISI intelligence agency. Despite these measures, other nuclear facilities have been attacked in recent years.
A spokesman for the Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibilty for the raid and said it was carried out in revenge for the death of the group’s leader,Baitullah Mehsud, in a drone strike in 2009 and for the killing of Osama bin Laden last year.
Lt-Gen Talat Masood, a leading analyst, said the ambitious nature of the attack suggested it had been many months in the planning.
“They have to perform otherwise their importance will be reduced and they won’t be able to recruit new militants,” he explained.
“There was a red alert with all the security agencies, yet they were able penetrate [the base] and bring in heavy weapons and damage an aircraft. It has been a great tragedy”----
In: Regional News, Other Middle East, Weapons
Tags: taliban, airbase, attack, nuclear, fears, pakistan
Location: Pakistan (load item map)
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