Pakistan air force base stormed by militants


Pakistani tribal militias gather in the Bajaur tribal region on March 2, 2010.


A. Majeed

KARACHI, Pakistan — Suicide bombers wearing military uniforms stormed an air force base in Pakistan on Thursday morning, heightening fears about the security of the country's nuclear weapons.

The attack took place on the Minhas base at Kamra, in Pakistan's Punjab province. It is believed that the base houses part of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, although Pakistan's air force has denied these claims.

According to Reuters, the attackers were armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons. A gun battle raged for hours, and all eight attackers were killed. One soldier was also killed, an air force spokesman said.

The Pakistani Taliban took credit for the attack, the Guardian reported.

BBC News reported that Minhas is one of Pakistan's biggest air bases, and holds about 30 fighter jets, including new JF-17 planes that were jointly developed with China. The base is about 35 miles north of Islamabad. This is the third time Minhas and the aeronautical complex nearby have been attacked since 2007.

Reuters reported that though the attack took place at about 2 a.m. local time, it is likely that many soldiers on the base were awake for morning prayers or breakfast during the holy month of Ramadan. It was not immediately clear how the attackers managed to enter the base.

Pakistan's Taliban has staged a number of attacks on military compounds in the last few years, including one in 2009 on army headquarters in Rawalpindi. Last year, militants staged a 16-hour attack on a naval base in Karachi to avenge the death of Osama bin Laden. Though Pakistan insists that it can protect its military targets, this latest attack will raise concerns about whether Pakistan's military, one of the largest in the world, is in control of its security.

US defense secretary Leon Panetta announced earlier this week that Pakistan would soon launch a major operation against militants in Waziristan, an area near the Afghan border known for its ties to the Haqqani Network, a Taliban-allied group known for attacks in Kabul.  

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