All six terrorists who attacked one of India’s largest air force bases near the country’s border with Pakistan over the weekend have been killed, the Indian defense minister said Tuesday, noting that soldiers were still combing through the facility looking for explosives.
At least seven Indian soldiers were reportedly killed and 20 others wounded in the attack on the Pathankot base in the northern state of Punjab, one of India’s largest air force installations near its border with Pakistan.
Bruce Riedel, former CIA officer and adviser to the last four American presidents in the staff of the National Security Council at the White House, accused Pakistani intelligence service ISI of orchestrating the attack.
Indian security officials suspected that the gunmen are Pakistani and linked to Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM), or the Army of Mohammed, a Pakistan-based group that has been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the United States and outlawed in Pakistan, Agence France-Presse (AFP) and various other news outlets have reported.
“The group’s aim is to unite Kashmir with Pakistan and to expel foreign troops from Afghanistan,” proclaimed the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). “JEM has openly declared war against the United States.”
NCTC revealed that JEM was founded in early 2000 by Masood Azhar, a longtime Pakistani terrorist leader.
Azhar established the terrorist organization after he was released from a prison in India with the assistance of the Pakistani intelligence service and Osama bin Laden, wrote Riedel, now a senior fellow and director of the Brookings Intelligence Project.
Pakistan’s intelligence service used JEM to carry out the attack, reported the former top White House official, citing”well-informed press and other knowledgeable sources.”
“The attack is designed to prevent any detente between India and Pakistan after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise Christmas Day visit to Pakistan,” he wrote.
So far, an alliance of 13 Kashmir-based rebel groups known as the United Jihad Council has officially claimed responsibility for the attack, which began Saturday and has been regarded as an attempt to undermine recent improvements in the historically strained relationship between the two nuclear powers.
The alliance, based in Pakistan’s portion of Kashmir, said its “highway squad,” which ordinarily targets military convoys, stormed the air force base, reported the Associated Press (AP) Tuesday.
Kashmir is a Himalayan region divided between India and Pakistan, but claimed in its entirety by both.
In a statement viewed by Reuters, Syed Sadaqat Hussain, a spokesman for the alliance, said, “The attack is a message by Mujahideen (militants) that no sensitive installation of India is out of our reach.”
“The initial pointers suggest that Jaish was behind the attack but it cannot be concluded till we complete the investigations,” Gen. Sharad Kumar, director of India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA), told The Times of India (TOI). “United Jihad Council has also claimed that it carried out the attack. So it will be too early to name an organization for the conspiracy. We need to first gather evidence to support any claims.”
NIA is reportedly leading the investigation into the Pathankot terror attack.
Asked whether the agency will probe the alleged involvement of Pakistan’s ISI, Gen. Kumar responded:
We will be sending a Letter Rogatory (judicial request) to Pakistan as soon as possible on the basis of DNA of militants’ bodies, voice samples in the intercepted calls, call details, numbers and other evidence and we hope to get assistance. It is too early to say whether ISI is involved. The probe has just begun and it will take some time for us to reach any conclusion on who planned it.
Manohar Parrikar, India’s defense minister, failed to explain how a few jihadists managed to paralyze the large airbase for nearly four days, reported AP.
“I see some gaps (in intelligence) but we will be able to understand only after the investigation. But I don’t think we compromised on security,” he told reporters Tuesday.
Commandos were deployed to the Pathankot base after Indian officials were made aware that an attack on the installation was imminent.
AP quoted the defense minister as saying the terrorists used “AK-47 assault rifles with makeshift rocket launchers attached, mortar rounds that could be fired from the launchers, pistols, and 50-60 kilograms (110-130 pounds) of ammunition.”
The Indian leader’s office issued a statement that said Modi urged his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif “to take firm and immediate action” against those affiliated with the attackers, reported AFP.
“Specific and actionable information in this regard has been provided to Pakistan,” added the statement.
Pakistani officials reportedly confirmed that the two leaders spoke, noting that, expressing sorrow, Pakistan said it would examine any information India provided.
The Pentagon has recently acknowledged the existence of terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan.
Nevertheless, in a joint statement issued in October, PM Sharif and President Obama stressed their commitment to an enduring U.S.-Pakistan partnership.
Gen. Raheel Sharif, Pakistan’s army chief, was well-received at the Pentagon in November, despite the Pakistani military intelligence’s support for the Afghan Taliban, which is responsible for thousands of U.S. military casualties.