Saturday 17 March 2018

Battle as gunmen attack Indian air base

An Indian armoured vehicle in position at Pathankot air base as during the battle between troops and gunmen (AP)
An Indian armoured vehicle in position at Pathankot air base as during the battle between troops and gunmen (AP)

Indian troops have killed four gunmen who entered an air force base near the border with Pakistan and exchanged fire with security forces. At least two soldiers have died in the firefight.

The gunmen entered the living quarters of the Pathankot air force base, about 267 miles north of New Delhi, before dawn, but were not able to penetrate the area with fighter helicopters and other equipment, said air force spokeswoman Rochelle D'Silva.

The Press Trust of India news agency quoted police as saying four attackers were killed following the hours-long gun battle and police started an operation to clear a wider area of other possible intruders.

Pathankot, in Punjab state, is on the road that connects India's insurgency-wracked Jammu and Kashmir state with the rest of the country. It is also very close to India's border with rival Pakistan.

Police were investigating whether the militants came from the Indian portion of Kashmir or from Pakistan. Rebels routinely stage attacks in Indian-held Kashmir, where they have been fighting since 1989 for an independent Kashmir or its merger with Pakistan.

Saturday's attack comes just a week after India's prime minister Narendra Modi made an unannounced visit to Pakistan to meet his counterpart Nawaz Sharif.

The visit was seen as a potential sign of thawing relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. The two heads of government also had an unscheduled meeting at the Paris climate change talks.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and training Kashmir's rebels , a claim Islamabad denies. More than 68,000 people have been killed in the violence in the Indian portion of Kashmir.

India's home minister Rajnath Singh said India wanted peace with Pakistan but "if there is any kind of terror attack on India, we will give it a fitting reply".

In July gunmen staged a similar attack at a police station and a moving bus near Gurdaspur, a border town in India's Punjab state. The three attackers killed four policemen and three civilians before being shot dead by security forces.

At least one helicopter could be seen firing at an area inside the base and shots could also be heard from inside.

Press Association

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