A daring raid on a Pakistani air base by Taliban insurgents which killed one soldier and wounded another man has raised fears over security surrounding the country’s nuclear arsenal.
According to reports, at least six, perhaps as many as nine, militants wearing suicide vests and disguised in air force garb were also killed during a five-hour gun battle after they breached the heavily fortified Pakistan Aeronautical Complex at Kamra, near the capital city of Islamabad.
The Daily Telegraph newspaper of Britain reported that Taliban forces managed to fire rocket-propelled grenades at a security check-point, before climbing the walls into the site itself. After killing a soldier, the militants destroyed a transport aircraft and came dangerously close to airplane hangars where F-16 jets are housed. These aircraft are used to drop bombs on Taliban bases along the border with Afghanistan.
The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) said in a statement that the attack was engineered in retribution for the death of their leader Baitullah Mehsud, in a missile drone strike in 2009 and for the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011.
Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper: “The attack was launched from two different sides. A team of four members entered from one side and five from the other and then they launched a collective attack inside the camp.”
Ehsan also claimed that his compatriots destroyed three jets, which was disputed by Pakistani military authorities.
Of greatest concern, the Kamra base is believed to store some of Pakistan’s estimated 100 nuclear warheads.
The Taliban warriors were able to penetrate the high security facility despite warnings from Pakistan’s intelligence network, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), that militants from the North Waziristan tribal area were planning to attack military installations.
The United States has expressed its grave concerns over terrorists like the Taliban and Al-Qaeda gaining control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.
However, after this latest incident, US officials said they were satisfied that Pakistani authorities have strong security measures in place at their nuclear facilities.
“I do not have any indication that this particular attack (Kamra) has endangered the Pakistani nuclear stockpile," Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters.
"As for the safety of the Pakistani nuclear programs, we obviously work closely and on regular basis with Pakistani counterparts towards the safety of their nuclear program. It is our sense that the Pakistani government maintains good security around their nuclear arsenal."
Pakistan’s Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt has ordered a probe into the incident.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.