India admits security gaps in deadly air base attack

PM Modi calls for "firm and immediate action" against those responsible for attack blamed on Pakistani assailants.

    India admits security gaps in deadly air base attack
    Defence Minister Parrikar said combing operations would continue to make sure no fighters or booby traps remain at the facility [EPA]

    India's Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has admitted to "some gaps" in security that allowed six gunmen to wage a deadly attack at an Indian air-force base in Pathankot near the border with Pakistan.

    Indian forces killed six men who attacked the country’s largest military base located in northern Punjab state, said Parrikar, adding that seven Indian soldiers had been killed and 20 others injured in the gun battle that lasted for nearly 80 hours.

    It has emerged that the gunmen hijacked a police officer's car but that his call to a colleague, after he was dumped by the roadside, was not taken seriously.

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    Indian intelligence agencies are saying that the attackers came from Pakistan, with the head of National Investigation Agency, Sharad Kumar, saying that the attackers came from Pakistan without elaborating further.

    The defence minister, who visited the base on Tuesday, said that combing operations will continue until Wednesday to make sure that no other attackers or booby traps remain at the facility that houses a fleet of Russian-origin MiG-21 fighter jets and attack helicopters, along with other military hardware.

    The attack, which has jolted the Indian security establishment, comes a week after Narendra Modi became the first Indian prime minister in 12 years to visit Pakistan.

    Modi-Sharif meeting

    During the surprise meeting between Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Lahore, the two leaders promised to revive talks that were suspended by New Delhi last year.

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    The apparently well-planned assault on a strategic military target just 25km from the border has put pressure on an attempt by the two leaders to improve historically fraught relations between the two nations.

    The South Asian neighbours have fought three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947, two over the disputed Kashmir region - which is claimed in its entirety by both.

    In a sign that both want the incipient dialogue to continue, Sharif called Modi on Tuesday to convey his "sorrow and grief" at the losses from the air base attack.

    Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Qazi Khalilullah said Islamabad was in touch with the Indian government and working on leads being provided by Delhi.

    "Living in the same region and with a common history, the two countries should remain committed to a sustained dialogue process. The challenge of terrorism calls for strengthening our resolve to a cooperative approach," Khalilullah was quoted as saying by DPA news agency.

    Firm action 

    According to a statement issued by the Indian government, Modi called for "firm and immediate action against those responsible for the air base attack", based on specific and actionable information provided to Pakistan.

    A new round of talks between the two countries' foreign secretaries has been tentatively scheduled for January 15, but local channel NDTV reported that it might be delayed due to the brazen attack.

    On Monday, the United Jihad Council (UJC), an alliance of pro-Pakistan armed groups based in the Pakistani-administered part of the divided Kashmir region, claimed responsibility for the assault.

    The group's leader warned that their attacks "can engulf all of India" if the issue of Kashmir's divided rule is not resolved.

    "Whenever they want, wherever they want, they can target the enemy," UJC leader Syed Salahuddin said in a voice recording released by the group, which has been leading an armed rebellion against Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan region.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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