PESHAWAR (Pakistan) • Taleban gunmen stormed a Pakistani Air Force base in the volatile north-western city of Peshawar early yesterday, a military spokesman said, launching the first major attack on a military installation in several weeks.
A group of militants attacked a guard post and tried to force their way into the Badaber air base, the military spokesman, Major-General Asim Bajwa, said on Twitter.
"As per initial information, seven to 10 terrorists tried to break deep in the base", but troops managed to contain them, he said.
Troops "reacted quickly and effectively surrounded and confined the terrorists in a small area", he added.
Eight attackers have been killed so far, he said, and 10 soldiers, including an officer, were wounded.
"Clearance ops still under way. Searching for hidden terrorists," Maj-Gen Bajwa tweeted.
A military official at the base, who asked not to be identified, said the gunmen opened fire on security guards as they tried to fight their way into the facility.
"All the terrorists were wearing explosives-laden jackets and were armed with hand-propelled grenades, mortars, AK-47 rifles," the official told Reuters.
"The Quick Response Force of the Pakistan army immediately responded and killed six terrorists before they could enter."
Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the assault, with TTP spokesman Muhammad Khurasani saying in an e-mail: "Our suicidal unit carried out the attack."
"We proudly claim responsibility for the attack on the Pakistani air base. This base is being used by fighter jets to bomb us," he told Reuters.
But a senior Pakistani Air Force official told Agence France-Presse the base that was attacked yesterday was used as a residential camp for air force personnel.
"There are no air assets, including combat aircraft, deployed at the base," he said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
Television pictures showed helicopters hovering above the base while police and ambulances gathered outside.
Nearby residents said explosions and gunfire could still be heard more than three hours after the attack began.
The number of attacks in Pakistan has fallen around 70 per cent this year, due to a combination of a military offensive against Taleban bases along the Afghan border and government initiatives to tackle militancy.
That follows a massacre at a military-run school last December that killed around 150 people, almost all of them children.
Militants can still strike high-value targets even though attacks have decreased. The home minister of Punjab province and 15 others were killed in a suicide attack last month.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE