Nine militants killed in 'surprising' attack on Pakistan Air Force base

Plan shows 'the attackers were well-prepared', says former ambassador

Pakistani Taliban fighters sit in the back of a pickup truck in 2009. Nine militants from the Tehreek-e-Jihad group were killed in an attack on an air force base in Punjab province early on Saturday. Reuters
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Nine militants were killed in an attack on a Pakistan Air Force base in Punjab province early on Saturday.

The base attack was claimed by the Tehreek-e-Jihad Pakistan (TJP) militant group in a statement from spokesman Muhammad Qasim, which appeared on social media on Saturday.

The Pakistan Army said it foiled the attack, killing all nine militants. It said three aircraft parked at the facility and a fuel tanker sustained minor damage.

“Our fidaayeen (fighters) attacked two compounds of the airbase in Mianwali, one housing training aircraft and the other having the jets that normally bombard our oppressed tribal and Baloch people,” Mr Qasim said.

“We have destroyed those aircraft while a tank coming to safeguard the troops was also damaged.”

Rustam Shah Mohmand, former Pakistan interior secretary and former ambassador to Afghanistan, told The National that the attack at the Mianwali airbase, one of Pakistan's most sensitive locations, shows the group is capable of carrying out lethal, well-organised plans.

“This attack surprised many because the airbase is very sensitive area, having aircraft and other significant installations. It shows the attackers were well-prepared and this is concerning,” he said.

The TJP emerged in 2023 and has carried out several high-profile attacks in the country, including the killing of 12 soldiers at a Pakistani military base in Balochistan in July.

The army said the terrorists who were killed attempted to enter the airbase, while the other three were surrounded. It said the troops’ quick response ensured the protection of national assets and a clearance operation was under way.

Mianwali, a district in western Punjab bordering Karak and Lakki Marwat districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has been a regular target for terrorist attacks against police and other forces.

Pakistan has experienced a surge in terrorist attacks, particularly targeting the military in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. On Friday, 17 soldiers died in separate incidents in the country.

Convoy attacked

Of the 17 deaths, 14 soldiers died when a military convoy was attacked in Gwadar, Balochistan province. The remaining three soldiers died in the DI Khan district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Another two died during an intelligence-based operation, following an exchange of gunfire, while one soldier died by an improvised explosive device.

“In Balochistan, people’s sense of deprivation could not be addressed by successive governments and political leadership, where locals believe that Gwadar port is benefiting the non-locals, not the local population,” Mr Mohmand said.

A security official told The National that the TJP has mostly carried out attacks in parts of Pakistan outside Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“There can be a number of factors. The CPEC project is just one factor, because the US would never like Chinese influence to grow in the region. This is why the region is being subjected to instability through militancy and terrorist attacks,” he said.

With Pakistan’s elections scheduled for February 8 next year, acts of terrorism raise concerns that political leadership will need to exercise extra caution during their election campaigns.

The JUI-F, led by politician Maulana Rehman, has been the target of repeated terrorist attacks, despite his strong advocacy for parliamentary democracy within his religious voter base.

In July, a suicide blast at a party convention in Bajaur district resulted in the deaths of many of Mr Rehman's supporters. In September, senior leader Hafiz Hamdullah narrowly escaped an attack in Mastung, Balochistan.

Pakistan has launched a crackdown to deport undocumented refugees. Earlier, an October 31 deadline had been given to the refugees to leave the country voluntarily.

The government expelled undocumented Afghans after authorities declared that several recent bombings had links to attackers linked to the adjacent Afghanistan.

But Mr Mohmand denied Afghan refugees were responsible and said most were in the country for work in various parts of the country.

Updated: November 15, 2023, 11:21 AM