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Taliban attack Pakistani air force base; 8 attackers killed

18 September 2015, 09:28

Peshawar — The Pakistani Taliban launched a brazen attack on a military base on the outskirts of the northwestern city of Peshawar early on Friday, triggering a firefight that left at least 20 wounded, including 10 soldiers. Eight of the attackers were killed in the shootout, officials said.

The assault on the Badaber base came as the army has been carrying out a major offensive against local and foreign militants in North Waziristan, a northwestern tribal region bordering Afghanistan. The military had stepped up operations against the Taliban and other militants in the area following the Pakistani Taliban attacked a school in Peshawar last December that killed 150 people, mostly children.

In Friday's assault, the attackers stormed the guard room of the base, located on the edge of the city of Peshawar. The base, established in 1960s as an air force facility, has not been operational for years and was mostly used as a residential place for air force employees and officers from Peshawar, according to air force officials.

Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa said up to 10 attackers were involved in the attack, which he described as being quickly repulsed.

In Tweets on social media, Bajwa said the country's powerful army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, rushed to Peshawar to meet with the security forces taking part in the clearing operation. He said Sharif will visit a military hospital where doctors were treating soldiers wounded in the attack.

Bajwa said eight militants were killed and 10 soldiers, including two officers, were wounded. A rescue officer said they transported at least 20 wounded to hospitals. The officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media, said there were no immediate reports of women or children among the wounded.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, Mohamad Khurasani, claimed responsibility for the attack. In a statement to the media, he claimed the Taliban fighters offered "safe passage" to women and children after attacking the base. He said they "targeted" 50 security forces, without explaining what that meant.

TV footage showed army helicopters hovering near the base, as police and troops surrounded the area. Local police officer Shahid Khan Bangash said a large explosion was heard after the militants tried to storm the base. "We are hearing that the attackers were armed with guns and rockets," he said.

Bangash said the attackers threw grenades at the guard room but were unable to enter the main area.

Later in the morning, he said the firing had stopped and a search operation for the militants who might still be hiding in the area was under way. He did not say how many attackers were involved.

Air force chief Sohail Aman had briefed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the attack, the air force said.

Friday's attack came a day after Pakistan reported the arrest a militant figure behind a recent failed attempt to target an air force facility in Kamra, also in the northwest of the country. Counter-terrorism officer Junaid Khan in the southern port city of Karachi, where the raid took place, identified the suspect as Umar Hayat and said he was being questioned.

Pakistan air force has been playing an important role in the fight against terrorism since June 2014, when the army launched the much-awaited operation in North Waziristan. The air force frequently target militant hideouts in the tribal area and elsewhere.

The army says it has killed more than 3,000 militants in the North Waziristan offensive. The region was once considered to be the headquarters of the Pakistani Taliban who have been targeting security forces and public places in an effort to topple the elected government to enforce harsher version of Islam.

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- AP


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