PESHAWAR: In what appeared to be a precisely planned and executed attack, terrorists displayed their ability to breach the security of an Air Force camp near here on Friday and carried out one of the deadliest assaults on a defence installation on the southern fringes of the provincial capital.
Twenty-nine people, among them personnel of the Pakistan Air Force and military and some civilians, lost their lives and all 13 militants who had stormed the camp were also killed.
The Darra Adamkhel chapter of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack.
Built by the United States in the late 1950s to eavesdrop on Soviet communications and conduct air surveillance on the Soviet Union, Badaber is no longer an operation camp. It now serves mainly as a residential area housing quarters for PAF personnel and a public school.
In a five-minute, twenty-nine seconds video sent to reporters on Friday, the TTP group’s leader Khalifa Mansoor alias Omar Naray is seen saying goodbye to a group of 16 militants which, it said, was departing for the attack on the PAF camp.
The group now based in Afghanistan was also behind the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in December last year which left 145 people dead, 136 of them students.
It was also behind a suicide bombing outside the offices of the local administration in Jamrud in Khyber tribal region early this month, resulting in the death of three people.
Security officials said the group affiliated with the Mullah Fazlullah’s TTP was emerging as the single major threat originating from Afghanistan.
ISPR Director General Maj Gen Asim Bajwa stopped short of blaming the Afghan government for “encouraging the attack”, but he did acknowledge that the attack was organised in Afghanistan and originated from there. “I don’t think the Afghan government or state could sponsor the attack. We have brotherly relations with Afghanistan,” he said at a news conference in Peshawar.
ISPR says 29 defence personnel and civilians killed; all assailants eliminated
But security officials dealing with terrorism said that there had been an uptick in the number of terrorist attacks in tribal regions straddling the border after relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan took a nose dive. Kabul accused Islamabad of being behind violence in Afghanistan.
“Whatever little the Afghans were doing, they are no longer doing. This means a freehand to the Pakistani militants operating on their side of the border,” an official said.
Police and military personnel said a group of militants drove to the main entrance, lobbed hand-grenades and fired at the guardroom before entering the camp. But they were engaged by the second line of defence, restricting them to the Mechanised Transport Section.
“This was the area which turned into the main battle zone,” a security official said, requesting he not be named.
“Had militants managed and succeeded in overrunning the second line of defence, they would surely have gone towards the main residential quarters and we would have seen carnage,” he said. “The Quick Response Force and those deployed inside the camp did a wonderful and heroic job,” he said, adding that eight of the militants were killed there.
“For the first time all standing operating procedures were followed, otherwise people would have forgotten the APS attack,” he said.
After facing resistance, the militants headed for a mosque in the camp at about 5.20am, shooting indiscriminately and tossing hand-grenades, killing sixteen people who were waiting for the early morning prayers to begin. The militants then went to the adjacent barracks, where they shot more people preparing for the prayers, the official said.
|A helicopter patrols over a PAF area and soldiers take positions outside the camp.—AFP|
The militants carrying backpacks were armed with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades, hand-grenades and improvised explosive devices, the official said. “None of them was wearing suicide vests. They were not suicide bombers. They had come to fight a long battle and fight till the last bullet,” said the official who had seen the bodies of the militants.
Maj Gen Asim Bajwa said at the press conference that 13 attackers tried to break deep into the base and that security forces engaged and contained them around the guardroom area. He said that 29 people, including 22 PAF personnel, three army soldiers and four civilians, were killed in the attack. Capt Asfandyar Bukhari of the army and three FAF technicians were among the dead.
The ISPR chief said the Quick Response Force, army commandos and PAF troops fought the militants while police were outside the camp in outer cordon.
The military spokesman said the terrorists had entered the camp from two points and later split into sub-groups. He said that due to quick response from security forces, the militants were contained in a close area, while one group rushed to the mosque and killed 16 worshippers. All the 13 militants wearing constabulary uniforms were killed in the encounter. He said three aviation helicopters had also taken part in clearance and evacuation of casualties.
According to a security official, one of the helicopters crashed inside the camp because of some technical fault, but its crew remained safe.
“There have been constant threat alerts and threat assessments about possible terrorist attacks in Peshawar and other places, including the Badaber camp,” another security official said.
But Maj Gen Bajwa denied that there was any specific threat against the camp. The last threat alert about a possible attack was issued on Sept 8.
Wajid Ali, an officer of the Frontier Constabulary’s QRF, told journalists at the Lady Reading Hospital that security forces had engaged the militants soon after they had entered the camp. They killed four of the attackers and injured two.
Suliman, another officer, told Dawn that he was among the first responders who rushed to the site following the attack. He said that they could not enter the camp because of intense fire.
A rescue official requesting anonymity told Dawn that his team received more than 30 injuries within the camp, while there were about 25 dead bodies. “I counted at least 16 dead bodies in the mosque,” he said, adding that the mosque was badly damaged as militants had used hand-grenades, besides opening fire at the security personnel. “It was gut wrenching scene inside the mosque,” the official said. Ten to 12 vehicles were also destroyed after catching fire.
He said the attackers were wearing black dress, akin to those worn by FC personnel, and joggers and some of them were carrying yellow backpacks. “Almost all the attackers were in their late twenties and thirties,” he said.
Shah Zeb, a local resident, told Dawn that he woke up because of heavy firing and intense blasts. He said that when he came out of his house, he saw smoke billowing out of the camp and military and police personnel rushing to the area.
He said security forces had about one and a half years ago shifted some 15 houses located very close to the camp.
Meanwhile, funeral prayers of the slain personnel were offered at the Peshawar Corps Headquarters. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif, PAF Chief Sohail Aman and senior military and civil officials attended the prayers.
Earlier, chiefs of the army and the air force visited the PAF camp and met security personnel who took part in the operation.
Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2015