Pathankot final assault: Forces ready with rocket launchers, choppers

Movement of heavily armed troops and the National Security Guard (NSG) personnel picked up at Punjab’s Pathankot airbase on Monday morning, indicating preparations for a final assault against the remaining terrorists holed up at the facility.
Soldiers armed with weapons such as rocket launchers and mortar guns besides other sophisticated weapons were seen entering the airbase in five army trucks around 9:30 am, followed by NSG personnel in three vehicles.
Punjab’s additional director general of police (law and order) Hardeep Singh Dhillon has also reportedly moved in to the base as a part of the operations.
Air Force choppers with night vision were kept airborne through Sunday night to survey the area as security forces conducted combing operations to flush out two alleged Pakistani militants who were part of the offensive. Gunshots were heard sporadically after the midnight and also in the early hours of Monday, while three explosions added to the tense atmosphere in the morning.
Operations resumed on Monday after the pre-dawn attack on Saturday saw security forces clash with alleged operators of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) till Sunday evening. The Pakistan-based group has been blamed for the December 2001 attack on Parliament that killed 11 people.
Casualties on the Indian side rose to seven and around 15 injured, with a blast during a mop-up operation killing an officer of the elite NSG and three more security men succumbing to their injuries from the encounter that began over 48 hours ago. Lieutenant t Colonel Niranjan, a member of the NSG’s bomb disposal squad, died after he succumbed to injuries sustained while trying to retrieve a live grenade from the body of a dead terrorist as part of the combing operations.
“The area can’t be declared fully sanitised,” Air Marshal Anil Khosla told reporters in New Delhi on Sunday.
The remains of Lt Col Niranjan reached his mourning family in Bengaluru early on Monday morning while those of Garud Commando Gursewak Singh arrived in Garnala, Ambala.
Home minister Rajnath Singh tweeted his condolences to the officer, as well to the other slain officers.
Officials confirmed no damage to military assets but admitted the government remained unsure about the exact number of terrorists who ambushed the heavily-fortified base in a pre-dawn Saturday raid as it became clear the number was higher than previously estimated.
A senior Punjab Police official said the number of terrorists could be as high as eight or 10, not five as originally thought, as authorities launched a massive operation to locate a vehicle that a possible second group of militants allegedly used to drive down from the border to the base, barely 25 kilometres away.

Indian army vehicle passes by a checkpost following fresh firing and explosions inside the air base, in Pathankot on Sunday. (Sameer Sehgal/ Hindustan Times)

Union home secretary Rajiv Mehrishi said forces engaged two more terrorists on Sunday – in addition to the four killed a day before – contradicting official statements earlier that said all attackers had been gunned down and the operation was in its final stages.
The confusion also saw home minister Rajnath Singh withdraw a tweet that said five terrorists had been killed on Saturday.
The strike – carried out by terrorists who reportedly had assault rifles, grenades, explosive jackets and GPS sets – is believed to have been an attempt to undo the recent bonhomie in India-Pakistan ties.
Investigators earlier believed the terrorists overpowered Punjab’s superintendent of police Salwinder Singh early on Friday and used his vehicle to reach the Indian Air Force base. But as Singh reported only four militants, police now suspect another vehicle was involved.
Counter-terror sources also pointed out intercepts that reportedly spoke about a group six terrorists infiltrating India. They also said all the phone calls made by the terrorists to Pakistan were on numbers known to belong to the JeM.
Throughout the day, military trucks were seen entering and exiting the walled compound throughout the day, including a demining vehicle. Dozens of security guards continued their vigil, while protesters shouted slogans and burned a Pakistani flag nearby.

An Indian Air Force soldier takes up position outside the air force base perimeter in Pathankot. (Sameer Sehgal/ Hindustan Times)

The setbacks saw many questioning the government’s handling of the crisis, including the quality of the intelligence and the planning of the response to the attack. Critics asked why it took authorities over 12 hours to probe a terror angle in the snatching of Singh’s car and the supposed lax monitoring of the international boundary.
The terrorists also supposedly crossed the border from virtually the same point as the extremists responsible for the attack in Gurdaspur in July last year that left 10 people dead.
Full coverage: Terror in Pathankot
(with inputs from Chitleen K Sethi, agencies)



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