Indian forces to neutralize air base after militant attack

Indian security forces try to clear attacked air base near border with Pakistan during third day of operation

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Afghan National Army (ANA) on watch during an operation near the Indian Consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan on January 4, 2016

Updated Jan 5, 2016

Indian Security Forces are going through the third day of the on-going air base clearing operation trying to defuse grenades and comb the grounds of the Pathankot Air Base in Punjab near the border with Pakistan.

The attack on the Pathankot Air Base in Punjab, a rare targeting of an Indian military installation outside the disputed northern region of Kashmir, threatens to undermine a tentative thaw in relations with Pakistan.

During the operation launched by the Indian security forces, four militants were killed. However, gunfire could still be heard by the air base with no further information about the number of militants still in the area.

"Operations to eliminate two more terrorists, possibly, are in the final stages," Major General Dushyant Singh, of India's counter-terrorism force, the National Security Guard, told a joint security news briefing at the air base.

"It is likely to take a long time," he added.

In the meantime, Afghan Special Forces fought with armed groups barricaded in a house near the Indian Consulate in the northern city of Mazar-i Sharif on Monday after an overnight attack that coincided with an assault on an Indian air base near the border with Pakistan.

A small group of gunmen tried unsuccessfully to break into the consulate late on Sunday, taking advantage of the fact that many people were watching the final of a football championship between Afghanistan and India.

They shut themselves into the house after failing to get into the consulate and battled security forces into the early hours of the morning. Troops were moving slowly to minimise civilian casualties, with operations also hampered by heavy rain.

"The area is sealed off and we are proceeding cautiously and making all possible efforts to protect the lives of those in the area. The attackers will be killed," the provincial governor, Atta Mohammad Noor, said on his Facebook page.

Gunfire rang out as army and police commandos fired rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns at the building and helicopters circled overhead in a residential area of the city, in Balkh province, bordering Uzbekistan.

At least four civilians were wounded and six security force personnel were slightly injured by a hand grenade, but the Indian ambassador said all the consulate staff was safe.

Noor blamed "enemies of peace and stability" for the attack, which came amid renewed efforts to lower tension between India and its rival Pakistan and restart peace talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

However, there was not concrete indication of who may have been responsible.

Last month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Kabul and Islamabad on the same day, underlining the drive to improve stability and overcome the longstanding hostility in the region.

However, Sunday's attack and a separate assault on an Indian air base in Pathankot, in the northwest Indian state of Punjab, underlined how difficult that process is likely to be.

As the attack in Mazar-i Sharif began, Indian security forces were still engaged in mopping up the insurgents in Pathankot.

In 2014, India's consulate in the western Afghan city of Herat was hit by heavily armed groups including suicide bombers, one of a series of attacks on Indian diplomatic stations in Afghanistan over previous years.

Pakistan has long been suspicious of India's engagement with Afghanistan and its diplomatic presence there.

TRTWorld, Reuters