Search op at Indian airbase underway, 2 more militants confirmed killed

An Indian security personnel stands guard next to a barricade outside the Indian Air Force (IAF) base at Pathankot in Punjab, India, January 2, 2016 © Mukesh Gupta
A blast and gunfire have been heard as a security operation resumed at India’s Pathankot Air Force base a day after it was attacked by gunmen. At least 12 people were killed in a 15-hour standoff between militants and troops.

The violence continued at the Indian Air Force (IAF) base near a frontier town of Pathankot, northern India, on Sunday morning during a security mopping-up operation.

Two gunmen were confirmed killed, a source in India’s Home Ministry told Reuters on Sunday, while the total number of eliminated assailants has risen to six.

"The decision to blow up the one of the administrative units was taken to neutralise the sixth militant. It was also needed to make sure we destroy live grenades," the source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The source said it is still unclear whether the Pathankot airbase was now fully secured, but efforts are under way to complete the operation before nightfall.

Two security personnel have been reportedly wounded in the new blast earlier on Sunday, a police official in Pathankot said, as troops scoured the base, according to Reuters.

The units searching the base and the nearby areas include security agencies, the Army, the National Security Guards (NSG), the Indian Air Force, paramilitary forces and the Punjab police.

"The search ops are continuing. Everything is being looked at minutely. The operation will end only after this is completed," a senior Punjab police official told IANS news outlet on Sunday.

The overall death toll has grown to at least 12, including six security troops killed in action, officials said. One of the Indian security officers killed was Lieutenant Fateh Singh, who won gold and silver medals in the first 1995 Commonwealth Shooting Championships.

There were also reports that an officer from a bomb disposal squad was killed in an IED blast while checking the body of a terrorist during the search operation.

On Saturday, at least six terrorists assaulted the heavily guarded IAF base Pathankot, located in northwestern state of Punjab, only 25 kilometers from the Indian-Pakistani border. Security agencies and other troops have engaged the infiltrators and killed four of them during the firefight, which lasted 15 hours. 

The firefight involved helicopters and drones presumably scrambled from the airbase itself to help support the security troops from the air.

During the firefight, the tarmac area, where the IAF's MIG-21 fighter jets and Mi-35 attack helicopters and other critical assets were stationed, was secured, but other areas may remain unsearched.

Later that day, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted that five terrorists had been "neutralized," but the tweet was withdrawn soon after, as there were no reports yet of the body of the fifth attacker being found.

Security around the airbase remains tight, with armed guards and armored vehicles standing on alert outside.

The attack on the airbase came a week after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unscheduled visit to his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, in hopes of reviving bilateral dialogue.