At least 29 people killed in siege at Badaber airbase.
The Pakistani Taliban attacked a Pakistan Air Force base near Peshawar on Friday, leaving 29 people dead, and another 29 wounded, the military said.
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the assault, with TTP spokesman Mohammed Khorasani saying in an email: “Our suicidal unit carried out the attack.” He also claimed that 14 terrorists had entered the base and two suicide bombers were still alive within it.
One soldier, Capt. Asfandyar, was killed in the crossfire. “Capt Asfandyar embraced shahadat while fighting valiantly and leading his troops from the front,” shared military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa in a tweet. Ten soldiers, two of them officers, were wounded in an exchange of fire with the militants at the Badaber base. “As per initial information, seven to 10 terrorists tried to break deep in the base” but troops managed to contain them, added Maj. Gen. Bajwa in a tweet.
“At least 29 people have been martyred—23 from Air Force, three from Army and three civilians,” Bajwa told a subsequent press conference. He said that 29 people were also wounded when up to 14 militants attacked the Air Force base entrance with rocket launchers, hand grenades and gunfire.
Bajwa said a group of militants rushed to a nearby mosque, which was still full of people who had offered morning prayers earlier in the day, killing 16. “[The militants] were contained within a close area. Meanwhile, a group rushed to mosque, martyred 16 namazi offering prayers. Were surrounded,13 killed, [operation] continues,” he posted on Twitter.
Troops “reacted quickly and effectively surrounded and confined the terrorists in a small area,” Bajwa said. He said quick response forces, army commandos and local PAF troops were involved in the operation. “Police were present outside the base in an outer cordon,” he added.
Peshawar, the gateway to the country’s tribal badlands where the military has been carrying out a series of offensives against Taliban and Al Qaeda linked militants, has suffered numerous Taliban assaults. The city suffered the worst terror attack in Pakistani history in December when Taliban gunmen massacred more than 150 people at an Army-run school, most of them children. But since then there has been something of a lull in violence. The last major attack in the city came in February when three heavily armed Taliban militants stormed a Shia mosque, killing 21 people.
A senior PAF official told AFP the base attacked on Friday was used as a residential camp for air force personnel. “There are no air assets including combat aircraft deployed at the base,” he said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Shakir Bangash, a senior police official in Peshawar, claimed to Newsweek that initial investigations had found that the attack started around 5:45 a.m. “The terrorists apparently came from the southern areas,” he said.
Mujahid Khan, in-charge of rescue operations at the Edhi Center in Peshawar, said his organization had shifted 26 injured to hospital. “I can confirm that my men have shifted 26 people, including soldiers of the Pakistan Army and two civilians who were wounded in the attack,” he said.
Junaid Ahmed, a local resident, said: “At 5.45 a.m. I saw some five to seven people wearing paramilitary uniforms trying to enter the Badaber airbase through the residential area adjacent to the base.” According to Ahmed, he assumed the men were military personnel and only later learned he’d had a close encounter with the militants laying siege to the airbase. Bajwa confirmed on Twitter that the militants had been wearing Frontier Constabulary uniforms. “Terrorists came in constabulary uniform. 3 heli participate in clearance/cas [sic] evac. A heli made emergency landing due [to] technical fault, safe,” he added.
Pakistan has been waging a major offensive against insurgent hideouts in the tribal northwest for over a year in a bid to quell an Islamist insurgency that has raged for more than a decade. Officials say nearly 3,000 militants have been killed since the launch of the latest offensive.